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Cognitive Load: The Price of Remembering to Remember

Remembering to Remember - Creating a To-Do List

You’ve put it off all week long and now there’s no way out of it, it’s grocery shopping day and time to get your list together to head to the market. As you walk around the house and kitchen, you may take mental notes or write down items on your list.

Along with these various mental notes, you also recall other reminders such as sending out a check or picking up a new pair of soccer cleats. You engrain each of these upstairs and rely on your brain to remind you when the time is right. While this seems simple enough, and we do this daily, it is amazing what is revealed when you take a closer look and examine what the brain is doing each time we create another mental alarm.

A simple way to look at the brain is to compare it to a central processor. Our brains can take on large quantities of information, store this information, compare it, and recall when needed. We can also program our brains to perform complex tasks and build new neuropathways. Now what, you may be asking yourself, does this have to do with remembering? Well, when we set these internal reminders, what we are doing is reallocating finite space to run this process. So, while we go along doing our major functions, such as paying attention to signs, lights, and signals as we drive to the market, this process is still running in the background. These types of reminders take up tiny fractions of the processing power that the brain requires to function optimally, and the more we pile on, the less likely the brain is to perform the way it typically would had it not been overburdened. The overload end result can be seen when reminders are forgotten or normal tasks are not done as efficiently as they normally would. Think trying to do math homework with a crying baby in the room, dinner on the stove, and someone coming in and out of the room every two minutes to ask you questions that must be answered immediately. How successfully will each of these tasks be completed in the end?

Our minds, whether we recognize it or not, is in a constant state of taking in information and deciding what to do with this information. To lessen cognitive load and free up space to function more efficiently, we typically turn to our smartphones, laptops, watches, maps, signs, etc. The use of various applications and tools help us remember, recall, and navigate the worlds we have created for ourselves without having to create mental reminders and reallocate space. This freedom gives us the option to browse, live in the moment, strike up a conversation, and even call upon information that may have otherwise been buried somewhere beneath everything else placed in your memory bank.

Luxuries like lights, signs, maps, pictures, and many visual applications are unfortunately not accessible to everyone. This is one of the biggest advantages of the Aware application. Not only can the Aware app assist users with orientating themselves, but it can also provide useful information via description when it is most relevant, so that features that may have been overlooked or inaccessible in the past can now be used by everyone, including those with visual or hearing impairments. Cognitive space that was once designated to learning new locations, memorizing surroundings, or setting reminders of what is available in a particular location are no longer needed and can be used for other activities or in learning new skills – providing a whole new type of freedom.