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Memory’s big data problem

Progressive Forage Grower Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 28 February 2015

I talked to a progressive producer at a winter show who said he had invested maybe $40,000 in precision and tracking technology that generated all kinds of data from his farm. Then he spread his arms about 18 inches wide and said, “I have a box full of information that I have no idea what to do with.”

He had every piece of data in that box his poor brain couldn’t carry anymore: where he last put the 3/8-inch x 4-inch fine-thread Grade 8 bolts, how many pounds of phosphorous he bought and what rate he used, and what the name of that website was where he found the soil maps.

And that’s the problem: Our memories are overloaded. That’s why most of us use only five functions on our smartphones instead of the 522 functions it is built to perform.

That’s why we replace our TV remote when it has only two buttons that are ever worn out: power and channel return. That’s why I can’t remember the middle names of my grandchildren, so I just call them all Ralph or Ralphetta.

Then to complicate the problem, scientists and researchers in the last 25 years have been able to more extensively research memory to see how our brains handle it. (We’re living longer, and apparently the researchers got tired of figuring out why we’re buying bottled water and Big Gulps).

What they found is that your brain doesn’t take a nice encapsulated, intact memory and just shove it in a corner like you do with paper piles on a desk. No, no, no.

Your brain first dumps that memory in a blender (with the lid off) and shreds that sucker into clumps and throws it all over your brain. Your shredded visual memory goes to several “filing cabinets,” where it is stuffed into several drawers.

Then your kinetic memory is shredded and filed in thousands of other drawers, and so forth with your auditory memory, olfactory memory, taste memory, etc.

Then when you try to recall that one incident, you have to search through thousands of drawers and try to reconstruct the memory.

I don’t know about you, but I get nervous when anybody says “reconstruct.” All I know about construction is there are usually parts left over or parts that didn’t fit, and it usually ends with a comment from my husband such as, “These instructions are useless. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

This explains the extra odd toilet parts that were tossed into the bathroom cabinet. I swear that toilet came with only eight parts total in the box, and we had two washers left over and had to make a trip to town for two extra-long bolts. And the little caps that are supposed to neatly cover the bolts? Yeah, they don’t.

I’m sure the same thing happens when we try to reconstruct memory. Some of the parts go missing, and then other parts you have no use for tend to show up. Haven’t you ever tried to reminisce with a sibling? It’s like they never lived in the same house or had the same parents.

Scarier still is when a farmer says to his wife, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all in my head.”

So I have news for you. Big data has been around a lot longer than the computer age. Technology didn’t invent it; they just found a way to charge you for it. Government didn’t conceive it. (They can’t even keep track of their emails).

We just lately came up with a label for big data is all, and a drawer for it – no … thousands of drawers. (Like we needed to keep track of another drawer in our brain.)

So if I meet you at a show or tour somewhere, and you happen to mention an article we’ve published or a conversation we’ve had, and I have a blank look on my face, it’s just because I haven’t found the right drawers in my brain where that information is stored.

And don’t be surprised if I call you Ralph.  FG

Lynn Jaynes
  • Lynn Jaynes
  • Editor
  • Progressive Forage Grower magazine

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