OS-level spaced repetition system

Computer operating systems have come with a predictable set of personal information management tools for decades: an address book, a calendar, an e-mail client, some basic note-taking function, files and folders, etc. These are structured differently from siloed “apps,” which typically aim to subsume some workflow from start to finish. This basic OS software is more general-purpose, each both a tool and a service, connected throughout the OS via API-powered integrations. You add an event to your calendar from an email, autocomplete a contact’s name within a chat app, save and open files to the same folder from many apps, and so on.

What if there were an “OS-level” Spaced repetition memory system? What if, rather than living “inside an app’s shoebox”, as in Anki and other existing tools, prompts were framed more like files in folders—readable and writable throughout the system?

Web articles could surface interleaved prompts, written by the author as in the Mnemonic medium or perhaps by readers as an annotation layer. These mnemonic annotations might be the authorial product of an individual with a strong perspective (as in a literary book review); or they might be crowdsourced, as on Genius / Hypothesis. You’d import these prompts as you read, just as your browser forms a history as you read.

Your PDF and e-book reader’s annotations could naturally be surfaced in this centralized SRS, rather than remaining siloed in some inaccessible sidebar.

When you jot notes in your daily meetings, you could tag key insights with a special tag to surface them to this system (as in The mnemonic medium can be extended to one’s personal notes)—perhaps a future word processor’s formatting bar would include buttons for bold, italic, underline… and “to be reviewed.”

Just as modern operating systems may create tentative calendar events or contacts based on chat messages or emails, the system may create tentative SRS prompts based on links you’ve bookmarked or phrases you’ve searched for repeatedly.

But these ideas become much more interesting once you think of SRS as useful for much more than memorization (see Spaced repetition memory systems can be used to prompt application, synthesis, and creation), and still more powerful when you consider that Spaced repetition systems can be used to program attention.

For example, you can raise your smart watch today and say: “remind me to write about my idea that SRS could be framed as an OS-level service.” That’s a one-time reminder. But with this OS-level SRS, you could raise your watch and say: “remember to reflect: what novel contexts might benefit from an OS-level SRS service?” That would create not a one-time “to-do” but a prompt for repeated reflection over time. (See Spaced repetition may be a helpful tool to incrementally develop inklings for more.)


Thanks to Gary Wolf for a helpful correspondence (2021-08-03) that helped me clarify my thinking about individual vs. crowdsourced annotation layers.

Last updated 2023-07-13.