This is less a post than a musing aimed at soliciting some feedback from all of you out there.
At work, I constantly encounter many who can recall with specificity minute details from documents they haven't seen in months. I don't want to dwell on why - whether they are just focusing in on a smaller number of data points and committing those to memory, or whether they just have out and out better memories than I do. But the question has prompted me to understand better the way I understand and remember information.
I believe I am an "Index" thinker. Like an index, I don't recall all the information about the subject. If you give me a topic, I recall a few subheadings and - more importantly - I know where to find additional information. When people ask if I recall a conversation by email - I don't. But I know that Gmail has it and I know what words and recipients I need to enter in the search box to find it. When someone at works wants a fact, I usually have a sense and need to confirm, but I know where to look. Everyone can do this to some extent, just like I can memorize information by rote to some extent. The difference is that this is my predominant way of thinking.
This type of memory is really useful for grasping large swaths of information. By using my memory for the shortest form of the information - the search string - I can leverage the huge chunks of storage available to me online and the hard drives on my various computers. On the other hand, it is bad for being able to recite any fact by rote on cue.
The next question, of course, is why I developed this type of memory, and whether it is naturally occurring or purely the product of my environment. For example: I have never been good at memorizing things word-for-word. Further, I am not the greatest reader. To learn something from the written word, I really need to be taking notes so there is an element of repetition and analysis. I also learn far better with visual, social, and/or tactile queues. I can learn to sail in half the time I can learn a monologue - and I'll remember how to sail two years hence but forget the...what was that again? Oh, and I have something of a random access memory. If we start talking about a subject, I will quickly "load into memory" a lot of the information related to the topic that was completely inaccessible before. Like turning from the index to the page it references, a lot of the detail comes flooding back. Finding a short-cut to permit me access to the word-for-word information is very convenient.
The other major influence has been my work. I used to do enterprise analytics - which means taking huge volumes of tiny pieces of data, such as individual teller transactions from a bank customer, and aggregating them to the highest level of a company so that someone like a CEO can slice and dice the data to tease out meaningful trends. I also created websites, relying on content from stock-footage websites and design ideas from all over the web. I rarely had what I needed at the start of any given project, but I know where it was and how to get at it. Then, I went to law school, where I learned to use the legal research tools, Lexis and Westlaw, spending a good amount of time as the law student rep to a users board for the latter. Did I go into this field because of the way I thought or do I think this way because I trained myself to do so through my work (and other endeavors)? Hard to tell. Probably a little of both.
My question to you: Have you seen any professional writing on this type of thinking and recall?