Brain-damaged man uses Twitter as his memory

4 Nov 2014

Twitter’s uses are well documented, but one man has created a niche within, utilising it as a memory bank for all of yesterday’s lost thoughts.

Philadelphia resident Thomas Dixon was knocked down by a car four years ago. He barely survived the accident, in which he suffered brain damage.

In essence, his episodic memory “is shot”, meaning things such as where he ate yesterday and who he was with are alien to him.

So using modern technology, Dixon found a way to circumvent the problem as best he could: Twitter. Dixon’s private Twitter account amassed more than 22,000 tweets in the last few years, each one serving a purpose of a diary entry, day-to-day memories he now stores online, rather than in his brain.

As reported on, “nothing seems even remotely unusual about a guy checking his phone to look something up.” But for Dixon, without his phone he would have no idea about what went on yesterday and what he had planned for today.

“I’m always aware of what I’m talking about and who I’m with in the moment,” Dixon says. “I just don’t know what happened yesterday or the day before. My declarative episodic memory is shot.”

Extreme journaling

‘Extreme journaling’ is what Dixon calls his Twitter use, and it goes beyond just that social media platform.

“I treat my Gmail as another sort of external memory for general notes or meeting notes, summary of research, whatever,” Dixon says.

“Email is anything I need to look at, like attachments for work. If it’s going to be more substantial I’ll do it an email, but I’ll mention to Twitter that I was working on the email.”

His iPhone calendar is also stocked full of reminders.

“To analyse his digital memory, Dixon downloads his personal Twitter archive and opens it in Excel, where he runs searches and performs basic computations,” reads the article on by John Paul Titlow, who met Dixon recently.

“Looking over this data, Dixon is able to see that he mentioned going to the gym 234 times. Coffee comes up 240 times. At first glance, it seems like pretty mundane stuff, but by quantifying the humdrum details of his life, Dixon can spot patterns.”

Now Dixon is looking at a way to merge all his current memory-aiding processes into one, potentially life-saving app, called MEmory.

“I really want to know what’s happened in my life,” Dixon says. “Because that’s what the injury stole from me: context. The ability to keep track of life’s events. Why I went somewhere. All of that. This approach basically creates a sense that my life is not lost.”

Brain technology image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic