By Tony Samson

THERE WAS a time, not more than two decades ago, when memos were addressed to other people and typed by secretaries in the form of paper correspondences, with multiple copies too if individuals other than the addressee needed to be in the loop. “Memo” is short for “memorandum” from the Latin, to bring to remembrance.

The memo covers a wide area of subjects, from promotions and demotions (you will move your office to the broom closet on Monday) to company policies, where to go for outings, corporate performance, and minutes of a meeting.

The written memo has been replaced completely by the e-mail or the more urgent text messages or Viber — see me first thing tomorrow morning. The e-mail message is easier to file and even if deleted, easy to retrieve in the case of investigations of such things as sexual harassment (your blinks are sending Morse code to me — see you in your broom closet) or insider trading — the sell order came right after the excom meeting. The text also registers delivery and its having been read.

With the growing memory capacity (even gadgets remember) of the smart phone, with the cloud adding even more storage space, the reminder or “to do” list has gone beyond the enumeration of chores (body massage at 3 p.m.). The self-directed reminders or “memos to your file” can include coaching tips gathered from lessons learned on trusting others or watching out for certain new promotions.

There used to be in the analog era a real memo to the file which was intended to record certain decisions agreed on and the context in arriving there, including the time and place of the meeting and who cast the deciding vote. This memo was kept in a specially secure filing cabinet to record what really happened and when the time comes, to cover a particular posterior. This practice is popular in political circles at the top, especially when dealing with chiefs who lie routinely.

It is said that memory needs to be practiced like a muscle being regularly subjected to exercises like pole dancing. With the availability of what mnemonics experts call external storage, what the brain does not need to retain within itself, the ability to remember has deteriorated. Thus, telephone numbers now stored in a hand phone directory can be dispensed with as items to keep in the head. Many cannot even recall what their mobile number is — I never call myself.

The memo to the file, once called an aide-memoire, or a memory assistance in the diplomatic area of treaty negotiations, is not a selfie photograph but an admonition of sorts directed at future actions. If Marcus Aurelius had a cell phone, his Meditations would be memos to self — “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and the rest of the day will be blissful.” This is an example in self-direction. Anyway, Aurelius as a stoic loved metaphors.

It is clear that anything that needs to be later retrieved can be in such a personal file. The key is to organize the classification system to know what category we are trying to access. Under “recipes” may be included the one for corporate politics — do not let others know what you’re bringing to the potluck party. If it is redundant, you can just bring it back home.

Aiding the mind with the memo to a file clarifies how we think of certain issues and how we incorporate lessons we have learned in life. The memos add up to guides for action. As in any file, this collection of loves and hates as well as collar sizes for certain brands need to be cleaned up regularly if only to make space for new folders.

The memos to the file, addressed mainly to yourself, can decline in age. There are less things to list down. Do you still need to remember, or be reminded later, about a meeting that did not get anywhere. Except for appointments that need to be kept and meetings with friends and family that can be handled by the to-do list and calendar on the phone, what else needs to be remembered later on?

Aging provides the gift of forgetting or at least remembering only the things that matter… for the file.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.