The mnemonic medium should be developed in a context where learning is in service of some meaningful use

The most obvious application for the Mnemonic medium is a formal educational environment. It can probably help students learn faster and more reliably. But I worry that developing the medium in that context would rapidly distort its goals: Enabling environments’ activities directly serve an intrinsically meaningful purpose. It could easily become a servant of exam prep and passive learning, rather than a personally enabling tool used in service of meaningful creative projects, as I hope it to be.

Of course, I imagine that if the medium is successful, people will use it just to pass tests more easily. But it would be a mistake to let its development be driven by this use case: that’d probably end with a medium which helps people pass tests but which doesn’t create meaningful enablement. (Recall rates are a misleading proxy for more meaningful goals of the mnemonic medium) If we let research be driven by how well the medium serves readers’ authentic sources of meaning, we’ll end up with something qualitatively different. There’s a Path dependence here.

Alan Kay notes: “I don’t think you can start with “text” or “programming” and get very far. I think it’s always better to have something important and big you want to do better with — eventually this provides clues to various kinds of media (including “languages”) that need to be invented to help.” (Bret Victor’s 2021-06-14 reply to my email about research-context fit). Likewise here, I don’t think one can start with “learning” in an abstract sense and get very far (see also Educational objectives often subvert themselves).

This observation is what makes me hesitant about a few possible genres of context for the medium:

Meaningful use isn’t enough. To be a good context for my research, that use also needs to be fairly demanding: The mnemonic medium should be developed in a context where people really need fluency.

Related: Effective system design requires insights drawn from serious contexts of use