How many of you are harry potter fans? In the story, Dumbledore had a magical vessel he used to store and review memories. It was called the pencil. This is obviously a fictional story set in a school of magic. But today we have something like this in the real world, it’s called the second brain.
The second brain is a digital brain that can be used to document every piece of information, every experience, every thought, and every learning. You can access all of this whenever and wherever you want.
What does a second brain look like?
Nothing too sci-fi or magical, a second brain looks like a word document backed up in the cloud. How much does it cost? Most second brains are free and some cost as little as $8 a month.
The second brain has been developed on the hypothesis that a human brain is meant to have ideas not to store those ideas. So the second brain can do the job of storing. It will store everything from your thoughts to your screenshots, your grocery list, your notes, photos, passwords, reminders, and all other things you can think of.
How does this work?
The second brain works through apps like Notion, Evernote, One Note, Obsidian, and Mem, all of them work in the same way. They expect every bit of information you come across, everything that you think your brain cannot hold. Shopping lists, quotes, or reminders, you don’t even have to type them down, you can simply voice record and send. If you are reading something interesting online for instance you can email the relevant paragraphs to your second brain. If you have a fleeting thought you can make a quick note of it.
Basically, every time you come across something that grabs your attention you log, in whatever form. Screenshots, photos, excel sheets, slides from a PowerPoint presentation, lines from an e-book, excerpts from online articles, and then you can access all this information whenever you want.
Say years later you want to write an essay or prepare an address on federalism. All you need to do is go to your second brain and type in the keywords, everything that you uploaded on the topic will be in front of you. If you’ve uploaded a grocery list you can retrieve it the next time you go shopping.
Advocates of the second brain say the system helps in knowledge management, it increases creativity and the theory is pretty interesting. It’s almost like having your own little library in the cloud.
So is this the future?
Well more like the present, believe it or not, all of us already have a second brain. All the apps that we use double up as a second brain. You know the ones that remind you to drink water or to stretch at home. Even breathe, apps tell you to stand up and breathe. They remind you to buy bread on the way back home. Apps remind you what you are doing 10 years back in the month of June. Gigabyte after gigabyte of content from your life is spread across these apps.
Do you remember what was the storage capacity of the first iPhone? 16 gigabytes (GB)! Today, an iPhone’s memory can be expanded up to 1TB, that’s one terabyte full of information from your day-to-day life.
What second brain apps do is replace all these apps with one, a notepad that doubles up as your library, your gallery, your reminder, your password keeper, your bookmark, your logbook, basically everything. It’s all cataloged! Some apps take it a step up they use time and location data to remind you of information/memories that you may have uploaded but forgotten. For instance, you go to a restaurant, the app will tell you that you came here 3 years back and this is what you ordered, this is who you came with and this is what you thought of the experience back then, obviously provided you’ve logged all of that.
But who does that, who documents so much information from their daily life? Actually, most of us do! We are continuously uploading stories, we are tweeting every fleeting thought, and blogging experience. Second brain app stores this content.
Quick question. Can’t we store the same information offline?
Of course, we can. We can keep notes, we can keep files. Previously, we had a filing cabinet. Once upon a time, every office would have such cabinets but filing and then searching for that file takes a lot of time. A digital brain is more convenient.
But do we really need one? Some of us can barely handle one brain. Jokes apart, science disagrees with the very high hypothesis of the second brain. It says our brain can store information, in fact, it can store 2.5 petabytes of information. It’s enough to store 3 million hours of TV shows. You have to leave the TV running for 300 years to use up all that brain space. In other words, we don’t have to worry about running out of brain space in our lifetime.
So why do we need a second brain at all?
These apps handicap us. They make us unnecessarily dependent on technology. Today, at least 20 million people are using a second brain. Some are leaning on them for making life decisions.
There is a very interesting story in an article. Annie, a 27-year-old in New York City began taking notes on her dating life. For Annie, the notion love tracker functions almost like an alternate memory which, once or twice, helped her clarify the amorphous gut feeling she was experiencing. “Once, after a first date I remember thinking this guy is so much fun but he seems really immature,” Annie says. Then on the third date with him, she was enjoying herself but began to feel a bit uneasy like “something was eating at me that I could not put a finger on,” she said. So she went home and consulted her notion love tracker; there, in her neatly organized tables, she found that she had noticed immaturity from the very beginning. She stopped seeing him.
The question is, did she really need an app to tell her this? She was supposed to remember that piece of information without help from an app.
The problem is not with the capacity of brain but our shrinking attention span. The reason why most of us forget information or names is that we are not paying enough attention to them in the first place. We are preoccupied all the time and mostly it’s with our phones.
A second brain only worsens this condition. It expects you to frantically document, to go through life that person in the courthouse who is documenting every word being said. What would you rather do? Log the thoughts that cross your mind when you’re sitting by the sea or let the chain of thoughts flow as you absorb the beautiful sunset.
We humans are more than what we document. Also, we humans evolve with time. So storing those thoughts can be a waste of time, both in the human brain space and the second brain space. Our brain functions in the most amazing way, it ensures we only remember what’s relevant. Our brain prioritizes clarity over clutter, our brain grows and it wants us to grow. What we need to do is pay more attention to things happening around us and you’ll be amazed by the kind of memory the human brain is blessed with.
So back to the question, do we really need a second brain? A little medicine reminder or a grocery reminder may help us balance our daily lives better but beyond that, the human brain is good enough.
Fun fact: A human brain can store 2.5 petabytes of information, enough to store 3 million hours of TV shows.