The initial mnemonic medium is implicitly authoritarian in premise

The Mnemonic medium, as presented in Quantum Country (and in Orbit’s initial versions), asks readers to bind themselves tightly to the author, memorizing all their key points in the form they’re presented. This is a significant request, and it’s one which only makes sense when readers are willing to fully defer to the author’s authority, not just on the details of the content, but also on the question of what deserves (recurring) attention.


  • readers are expected to interact with all questions:
    • you can’t skip a question in the middle of a set (only the entire set)
    • you can’t delete or disable a question once it’s “collected”
    • the progress mechanics assume you’re trying to collect all the questions and “penalize” you if you don’t
  • questions are not modifiable
    • readers can’t add their own questions or situate them relative to their own thinking

It’s a powerful stance to take when that really is the reader’s stance—perhaps they really do want to sit at the feet of this author and drink deeply of all they know on this subject (a mechanism for strong teacher–student bonds, as suggested by Gary Wolf). But it’s not a stance I usually want to adopt, and I think the same goes for most people.

As a reader, I do want a medium which supports authors in expressing their views as strongly as possible. I want to (have the option of) understanding exactly what they think is important, and how specifically they think about the material. But I don’t (usually) want to be shackled to that structure. I want my collection of prompts to feel under my control. For more on this: The mnemonic medium should give readers control over the prompts they collect.

Practically speaking, it’s very difficult for authors to write a text which is compatible with this kind of authority: Mnemonic medium readers sometimes feel impeded by authors’ wording choices. But I don’t think the right way to deal with this is with a “trap-door” for readers to use when they don’t like a questions wording. I think we should make the medium less authoritarian at a conceptual level.


  • Gary Wolf’s 2021-07-10 email to me on serious contexts of use
    • Gary points out that in an era where most people talk about the importance of independence in learning, it’s “nicely counter-cultural” that we’ve built an “instrument of authority.”
    • He suggests that it might make sense to do this as an “enthusiast and adherent,” to deepen one’s bond with the author, relating to some of the “most important, often unsupported, mechanisms of cultural transmission and innovation.”
    • That’s quite striking and creative, but I don’t think it’s what I want to make!
Last updated 2023-07-13.