A picture of a stick of computer memory

Living Life in RAM – The Importance of Documentation

Imagine for a moment that your computer has no local storage and that everything running on it is saved into volatile system memory. Remove the power or reboot, and everything will be lost forever.

The human mind is far more resilient, has less programming bugs, and more control over its actions and environment than a standard computer. But our human memories are stored in a similar way, and lost forever when the supply of energy runs out.

The chances of this computer forgetting everything can be reduced by clustering them with multiple computers in resilient locations. If all your information was held on this cluster, still running in volatile system memory, would you trust it to keep your information safe? Probably not.

If you think about your place of work, with all the documents, databases, and other information, would you trust the computer cluster to retain all that information? Definitely not.

Unless our storage at work is stored on disks that are configured into resilient groups, with spare disks available to take over after failure, and backed up to a remote location, we are not confident that our information is safe.

This therefore leads onto the question of what information we store in our human memories and how do we protect it? We are more resilient than a computer, and entire clusters of computers, but we are not infallible.

As humans, we are all living life in volatile system memory, commonly referred to as RAM. We treat our memories with disproportionate respect, compared to our computers, and we insist on storing the only copy of critical information within it.

This brings us onto the importance of documentation, in the workplace, and at home. The undocumented understanding, procedures, passwords, encryption keys, and local knowledge that will be lost when you are no longer available.

Documentation is critical to the long-term survival of information and just like our computers and servers, there should be a commitment to storing these on permanent storage. Committing our memories to permanent storage also allows us to share this information, creating a cluster of minds that can all work together to succeed at a common goal.

In the future, we need to design systems that helps us document with much less effort. It can be time consuming to document, especially if the audience needs a certain level of knowledge and prior understanding to be included. The problem that needs to be overcome is accurate automated metadata creation.

We are good at creating information, but then have difficulty trying to find it again. Metadata is critical to identifying the association of one piece of information with another, in what contexts it was collected in and associated with, and to what accuracy and completeness the information may be.

As you remember information that is critical to your home life or work life, decide whether it should be committed to permanent storage. Our memories are also liable to corrupt, become lost, and become inaccessible to even ourselves, which can be the saddest moment in a person’s life.

Help yourself, your loved ones, and your employer by making a contribution to the documentation of life and work.

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