I'm not prone to endorsing commercial stuff or of turning these usually pointless rants into quasi-commercials, but I was reminded again today of how much value I consistently derive from my subscription to WIRED magazine. I initially subscribed years ago when I was a freelance graphic designer and was curious about the mag not just for its views and reviews of tech items and trends, but its über-cool design and typography.
On the store rack, the magazine runs 4 or 5 bucks an issue, but via subscription that price drops to a rather ridiculously low 10 bucks per year. I call that "ridiculously low" because WIRED more consistently sparks my creative thinking in storytelling than any other single news or information source out there. Not a single issue in the past four years has come through my house where I have not found myself reading some article about some potentially geeky niche subject -- be it bio-engineered foods or new energy sources or matters of arcane interest to geophysicists or interviews with Polish psychologists -- that I don't wind up dropping the magazine, staring into space and go "Huh!" as some kernel of a story idea pops into my head.
That that last random example as a specific example. In this month's issue there is a featured section devoted to Memory and The Mind. Now, to some that might be pretty dry or esoteric stuff, but the fine folks at WIRED also tend to hire some pretty damned fine writers, and even the most squirrelly subject usually comes off well-represented in their pages.
Of special interest to me this time was a supremely cool piece called The Memory Master, an interview and overview of the research and life of Polish cognitive psychologist Piotr Wozniak, a truly "out-there" researcher who has pretty much turned his own life and mind into an ongoing research project into the study of learning and memory.
Wozniak helped develop a program years ago called "SuperMemo" which automates the recall and re-learning elements which are now proving perhaps MOST critical in long-term retention of newly acquired knowledge (basically, it now turns out that the best time to review and practice remembering knowledge is that moment right before it's totally forgotten, and Wozniak has developed a wild algorithm based program to help schedule and automate the review sessions for... well, anything.
Beyond just the typically weird "Polish psychologist" aspect of his mind, Wozniak's priest-like devotion to the idea of learning is fascinating to me. The idea that a man might turn his back on the normal social conventions and traditions in order to build a computer to help him expand his mind into a super-powerful device for recalling and storing and connecting facts... well, there are aspects of that which resonate with me perhaps more than is healthy.
I'm one of those odd folks who always seems able to recall loads more than what my peers do. I'm not saying I'm "smarter," because I'm not entirely sure how that would be measured. But I do know that I often seem to be playing with a lot of extra cards in my deck, and when I throq down that sixth ace, people often look and say "now where the hell did that come from?"
Wozniak's research gives hints to possible answers, and they also spark all sorts of cool potential story ideas.
I'll strongly recommend WIRED to any writer looking for a constant source of possible story ideas and igniters, and I'll also recommend the Wozniak article to anyone with even a passing interest in getting a cool and untraditional view of how that big blob of fat between our ears operates and possible ways to eek out some more performance.
Yeah, I'm a closet geek, but I find it absolutely thrilling stuff.