On using Anki, again

Thinking in terms of dependencies is systematically underrated not just in software development but in using personal-management software. Consider this (stylized but fairly common) exchange:

A: "Where should I write arbitrary documents?"

B: "Use TeX! Liberate yourself! Produce arbitrarily great documents!"

A: "Sounds good! How do I change the font?"

B: "Ahahahahaha no."

There are constraints you determine and choices you make, and some the software makes. These can interact in complicated ways. You set up MyFitnessPal, and then it gives you a budget. An email system forces you to think in terms of folders / VIPs / inboxes / whatever, but you determine when and what you email, whether to auto-archive, which clients use which accounts, and so on.

This isn't just about ergonomics: it's about what causes what in your life. This matters a lot with Anki. An anonymous reader asked me how exactly I used Anki, and in particular whether it makes sense to commit to using X minutes per day in Anki.

I'd hate to do that, because I need Anki to sit downstream of my cognitive goal-setting. An underrated benefit of using Anki is that it tells me how much of my mental resources are free and available. But I want it to tell me what my capacity is, not how to use it. It's my job, not Anki's, to figure out whether to use slack immediately, or carry it forward and have some room in my memorization budget the next time some valuable fact set comes along.

Again, the best argument for adopting a spaced-repetition regime is not that there exists an exotic, beneficial system of mental training--as much as one might be interested by such a system. It's that we all already want to remember things, and spaced repetition is the most efficient way to do that.

For me, Anki is a good driller but a bad personal trainer; DEVONthink is a great "personal datalake" but a bad life-hierarchy-describer; Goodreads is useful at ingesting data and not useful at describing that data. I've failed with these (and with much other software!) when I've let them determine something they shouldn't or gotten in the way of letting them determine something they should. Each of those failures was, fundamentally, a failure to properly manage the dependency graph for my mind correctly.


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