I feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I read on the internet. So I outsourced my memory to an AI application.

Late in the afternoon, I was struggling to remember. My browsing history for the day suggested that I read over a dozen news articles, several Slack messages, tons of Twitter threads, and a bunch of notes for my next assignment. Yet somehow, I couldn’t remember much of it. I remembered some vague features of the content I consumed but lacked detail.

That afternoon wasn’t particularly special — a few days later, I struggled to remember the details of a lengthy COVID story I’d read during a conversation with a friend. These cases were not from memory crises, nor from a head injury. I had a lot of noise in my mind. No matter what or how much I read online, I can’t help but forget it after a while. I don’t blame my brain either. Most people consume an enormous amount of text every day — hundreds of thousands of words — so it’s no surprise that our memories struggle to retain more than a few minuscule details. “Humans have worse memories than we think, and text memory in general is not great,” Virginia Clinton Lisel, assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of North Dakota, told me.

The Internet only makes this brain capacity problem worse. The online reading experience is riddled with obstacles that prevent our brains from locking the information we consume into our long-term memory. When you’re reading a book, things like page numbers and the physical ability to hold and turn pages help your brain create a mental map of the information the book is giving you. However, websites do not have these types of memory triggers. For this reason, multiple studies have found that participants who read offline performed better on comprehension, focus, and recall than participants who read online.

The added distraction of the web business — auto-playing videos, pop-up ads, 24-hour torrent of notifications — certainly doesn’t help. “Our ability to process incoming information is naturally limited,” Andrew Dillon, a professor of information and psychology at the University of Texas, told me. If we try to process too many things at once, he added, “we pay a cost in terms of memory and comprehension or time. There is no free lunch.”

Another problem is that people devote much less mental effort to reading something online since we treat all online reading as if it were social media – as if it just needs skimming. Dillon told me that in order for information to fit into our knowledge structures, we must distribute attention. “This takes time and effort,” he said.

Since we know we can look up a piece of information anytime we want — whether it’s a phone number or George Clooney’s birthday — we’re less likely to save it. Many times during the day I end up Googling articles I read a few hours ago only because I can’t remember more than a few keywords.

To address this problem, dozens of read later and bookmark apps have come out over the years. Apps like Pocket and Instapaper have accumulated millions of users by offering ways to organize links and save what they want to read online. But these apps can feel like a chore to keep and ultimately don’t help retain the information on those web pages. Because of these shortcomings, I decided to try a new, little-known service called Heyday.

Heyday, which describes itself as an AI memory assistant, promises to fix two major challenges I’ve had with Reading List tools: It requires little to no effort on my part and aims to help me remember things better. Instead of just cataloging where I read something, it promised to help me remember what I was reading. In the three weeks I’ve spent with the app, I’ve found that it’s been effective at helping me remember things, but it comes with a problem: Using a memory tool like this has the potential to make your biological memory worse over time.

new memory

Founded in 2021, engineers designed Heyday to be your memory – it quietly processes everything you read in the background and replays information when you need it. The app works by automatically scanning everything you look at on your browser: web pages, Google Docs, notes, Slack conversations, and Tweets. Then, it sorts what you’ve read into categories based on topic or how much time you’ve spent on something. Once information is added to the catalog, it provides dynamic prompts next to search results or within the articles themselves to help re-emphasize information you’ve already read.

After installing the browser extension, Heyday went to work scanning everything I was reading. Once I gathered enough information, what I read began to reappear. When I Googled “Elon Musk” to look at the news about the Twitter CEO banning journalists, the app pulled a list of relevant links from my history with their main summaries next to my search results. In this case, Heyday pulled a Substack newsletter from a journalist, a tweet thread about how Musk was criticized in a Spaces chat room, and a profile of another social network that people were flocking to. This list allowed me to instantly remember what I had already read on the topic and added useful context to my research, making it a more valuable use of my time.

Screenshot of Heyday's claims next to Google search results about Elon Musk

Heyday is an AI memory assistant. Reminds you of articles, posts, or other content you’ve previously read.

Shubham Agarwal / Heidi

When reading an article, Heyday would underline keywords I’d read in the past, and when I hovered over them, the app told me more about it based on what I’d read. While the Heyday browser tool acted as a memory aid, its website felt like a snapshot of my online memory. Categorize all the content you’ve watched by type: videos, tweets, research reports, and so on. Since its search tool understands natural language, I can use it to specify a query, such as “articles about banning Elon Musk,” without worrying about correct syntax or keywords. In addition, if there are any articles in my history that I particularly liked to read, I can tell Heyday to store them in a separate folder such as “favorites” or “recipes”, and the next time I find similar content, it will automatically recommend it to save Article in this volume.

Screenshot of the Heyday website showing different content folders

Heyday organizes everything you read or watch online into related folders.

Shubham Agarwal / Heidi

One potential drawback is that because of the way it operates, Heyday collects a treasure trove of data about you and your browsing history. But Samir Rahman, co-founder and CEO of the startup, told me the data is encrypted and their business model is not based on selling user data or advertising. Instead, their revenue comes from the $19 monthly subscription to use the tool. While the subscription model might help keep my data safe, the steep price point limits the tool to people like researchers or journalists who might use it a lot and could justify the cost.

Another limitation with the tool is that the search tool often takes a few seconds to appear next to my search results. So, there were times when I ended up clicking on a result instead of waiting to see what the popup came back with. And while it never failed to log what I read, Heyday’s algorithm sometimes didn’t understand the content and context of the link, resulting in relevant articles not showing up when I expected them to while doing another type of search. But in the three weeks I spent with Heyday, I consistently felt that it made a difference to how much I could remember—and the experts I spoke with had an explanation.

New information enters the first “forgetting curve” of our memory, and much of it goes down the drain unless we take the time to review the material. Dillon told me that repetition or re-reading is crucial to better remembering new information. Heyday’s constant exposure to the same information, he told me, can be vital to helping memory. Similarly, making connections between subjects or subjects naturally improves comprehension and memory, Clinton-Lissel told me, adding that if a tool like Heyday helps you make connections while reading, it should enable you to remember better.

In my experience, because the app exposed me again and again to the content I was reading and helped me make connections between the things I was reading, it helped me solidify the information in my mind.

Refocusing the mind

Rahman told me that Heyday’s ultimate goal as a memory aid is to “increase people’s creative output.” By freeing the brain from the task of encoding memories and bringing them back to the surface, he believes, the brain will have more freedom to “focus on the things the human brain is uniquely good at — thinking, creating, analyzing.”

Heyday is not alone in this project. Wider efforts are being made to complete our memories across the industry. Dennis Shaw, co-founder of OpenAI-powered Mem AI, a self-organizing workspace, wants to help the brain remember disparate bits of information so it works less on recalling raw data that you can easily search for. The goal of Mem AI is to allow people to focus on creative output and recall personal memories such as the face of a loved one. “I think this is better than using the memory of the brain than remembering the date of the Battle of the Alamo, for example,” Shaw said.

Rewind, a startup that raised $10 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz last year, said its “long-term vision is to give humans a perfect memory.” Rewind captures everything you look at on your computer and creates a timeline of your activities, allowing you to simply look up facts and conversations instead of having to remember them or spend time searching through different applications. On the other hand, a personal AI wants to clone your mind, creating a virtual “second mind” that will house all your memories and data.

However, if we start routinely outsourcing the memorization function to internet tools, will our biological memory evolve into obsolete? There is already evidence that the Internet has worsened our memory because we don’t feel the need to memorize what we can in Google anymore. Amnesty International’s personal spokesperson, Jonathan Bikoff, doesn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. He expects brains powered by technology to be more powerful and reliable than our biological brains. “With the help of AI, humans may be able to enjoy more from life, embrace oblivion, and learn to weave AI into every day,” said Bikoff.

Although the jury is still out on the biological evolution of our memories, Dillon said the extent to which the Internet and digital access make memorizing important, at least to some people, is intriguing. “Why learn a poem by heart if you can pull it out on demand? What’s the point of learning your math tables if you can just ask Alexa to answer? Like our bodies, do our brains also need exercise to maintain full functioning?” Conclusion: “I think there is some truth to this.”

I can’t help but agree. While using my Heyday, I was constantly surprised by the number of stories from my list of widgets that I actually forgot about. It was a reminder of how much information I had read from my mind. But while Heyday has been effective in filling my limited memory gap, making searching easier, I worry that relying on the tool will make my memory worse. But given the growing volume of text we read on the Internet, we may have already passed the point of no return. The modern world requires us to consume a huge amount of information, and our biological memory simply does not have the ability to remember it all. So instead of fighting a losing battle, an extended hard drive space like Heyday can be a vital supplement. For me, at least, Heyday is here to stay.

Shubham Agarwal is a tech journalist from Ahmedabad, India whose work has appeared in Wired, The Verge, Fast Company, and more.

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