ac;pic: we remember by association

“The physiological data, as well as computational models, suggest that the hippocampus is suited to promote more flexible associations by recognizing relations among items and differentiating overlapping patterns (separating where one sees the person from the places and times of the events). This could contribute to the encoding of each unique episode, as well as relating the context-free information into semantic knowledge.” [1]

“(…) representations formed in the cerebral cortex are bound together into semantic associations by the parahippocampal region, and then further processed by the hippocampus to add the contextually rich episodic or spatial information.” [2]


Photos are triggers for memories. To organize memories we have to do it the way the brain does it.

Let’s analyze how we organize memories.

How many vacations have you taken in your life? Myself, probably 20. Where did you go in 2010? I went to Las Vegas with my (then) fiancée, my mother, 2 of my aunts and cousins. And where did you go in 2019? Japan with my (now) wife, her parents and my mother.

Let’s list what I associate with these 2 examples:

My mind associates a place with a date, a person or group of people and the context (in this case, “vacations”). “Japan 2019“ has certain things in common with “Las Vegas 2010” - those were vacations, and my wife and mother were there -, but other things are different - different countries, my in-laws were in one of them, but not in the other; same with my aunts and cousins.

When I think “vacations with my wife” both “Las Vegas 2010” and “Japan 2019” come up, as with “vacations with my mom”. “Vacations with my aunts” only return “Las Vegas 2010” while “vacations with my in-laws” only return “Japan 2019”.

If I think “where did we go on vacation in 2010?” that’s “Las Vegas”. When I ask myself questions or think about specific people, places or situations; certain memories come back.

Some of those memories are unique, such as “vacations with my in-laws”; but some have more than one, like “vacations with my wife”.

That is how we organize memories, by association. We associate things, people, places, situations and the results are memories.

“Remember that sushi place on the top of the tall building? That view was amazing! Remember the variety of sushi? Where was that? Was it Tokyo or Osaka?”

The answer is: “Tokyo. Just my wife and I. Having sushi late at night. Our parents turned in early. We took a lot of pictures of the spectacular sushi, the view and the place”.

The way I remember that is: Vacations + 2019 + Japan + Tokyo + Wife + Food.

Even if I can’t remember where in Japan it was, I know we were on vacation, it was in 2019, we were in Japan, it was just the 2 of us, and we were having dinner. I can narrow it down so I’m only left with the question “in what city was that?” Well, as it happens, there could only be 2 possible places: Tokyo and Osaka, since everywhere else we had dinner with our parents. Arriving at the right answer “Tokyo” is a lot easier.

Photos and videos are triggers for memories, we should use our natural flow when storing and organizing them.

This past example was for 2 particular instances. But what about the other 18 vacations? What about the graduations, weddings, birthdays, parties? What about the thousands of random pictures and videos we take daily? In what folder would those fall into? Imagine I had only used albums called “Las Vegas 2010” and “Japan 2019”. If I wanted to remember that dinner, I would have been scrolling through the over 1,500 photos we took on that trip.

What about the trips I don’t remember, the birthday parties that are a blur now because it happened so long ago, what about the photos of that fun night with friends that I can’t remember when it was?

I can’t create albums for moments I can’t remember. I can’t put memories to an arbitrary method. It won’t work. Albums don’t work.

But tags can do the job.

For the pictures of that dinner I could use the tags: Vacations, 2019, Japan, Tokyo, Wife, Food. If I couldn’t remember where that dinner was, I could use the tags: Vacations, 2019, Japan, Wife, Food. The results would only bring back photos that meet that criteria, and from there it gets a lot easier.

What would happen if I wanted to see my vacation photos as the years went by? I could just put the tag “vacations” and see what comes back. Then I can select “2010” and see where that was, or “2011”, and the same. I can move around unconstrained. I can drill down and then up again. I can easily add more pictures and have a logical and scalable organization system. I can find memories quickly.

Tagging pictures sounds like a lot of work. That’s when auto-tagging and interface design come in.

The brain organizes memories by association. Association of places, people, context, moments. It only makes sense to have an organizational method for photos and videos - triggers for memories - similar to the brains’ method.

It only made sense to work with this principle when building ac;pic.

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