Steel Trap app aims to help memory, falls short

Jun 14, 2010
Education

When I downloaded the Steel Trap iPhone app and begin to research it for the review, I was completely unfamiliar with the techniques, like the “Journey Method” and the “Phonetic Alphabet System.” But as someone who has a heck of a time recalling things on a daily basis, I attempted to keep an open mind […]

When I downloaded the Steel Trap iPhone app and begin to research it for the review, I was completely unfamiliar with the techniques, like the “Journey Method” and the “Phonetic Alphabet System.” But as someone who has a heck of a time recalling things on a daily basis, I attempted to keep an open mind with regards to the techniques and focus on how the 99-cent app presents these techniques.

That said, in a review like this, it is difficult to separate the content from the presentation. It is even more difficult when the subject matter of the app is largely a matter of preference. The 2008 USA Memory Champion, Chester Santos, apparently swears by these techniques. I have never won a championship of any kind that I can recall, but I can’t bear to spend another second using this app. Your mileage may vary. In any case, I will attempt to make it clear that my complaints with this app stem not from these theories themselves, but rather their execution within the app.

Each of the four modules contained in Steel Trap has an accompanying text and video training section in order to familiarize the user with the technique they’re about to practice.

For whatever reason, the tutorials are written out like note cards, so instead of scrolling through the tutorial, you read through a screen and flip through to the next until you’ve reached the end. If this is supposed to make it feel like the tutorial is shorter, it has failed. When the instructions for a small part of an app are 31 screens long, someone has either done a terrible job explaining the technique or the technique is overly complicated.

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If the text doesn’t quite do the trick, the videos fare even worse. The initial video for the “Journey Method” training doesn’t even get started until Santos has somehow spent a minute and a half explaining that he’s going to have you look at different “locations,” and how you should focus on each location for at least five seconds.

He then proceeds to take you on what appears to be a video tour of his apartment, where you’ll see a plant, among other objects. Later, you’re supposed to have memorized a list of objects by “remembering” that the plant you saw had a giant apple growing in it that grew until it exploded. Even though the only thing you saw was the plant, with no apple, the training suggests that somehow you’ll remember an apple if you create this fictional connection in your mind.

After you have had your fill of the tutorial videos and texts, you can attempt to practice with some of the other journeys, including a list of the Academy Award winners, or you can create your own journey.

Part of my immense frustration with this training and Steel Trap is that although the tutorials are impossibly long, it feels as though they never actually explain why this would work. For myself personally, I am more willing to accept a methodology if I can understand how it works, rather than taking it on faith that if I need to remember a random list of objects, creating backstories for those objects will help me to remember them.

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The rest of the app goes on in a similar fashion; there is a section for turning numbers into text so you can remember them easier visually, a section to help remember names, and then apparently a section to help you count cards at Blackjack, though that is implied rather than stated outright.

As someone who did not appreciate the presumption that the app makes that I will blindly attempt these training methods without understanding how they work, much of this comes off like a shrill advertisement for Chester Santos. The “About” section is three pages of information about Santos, with nothing about the methodology of this Steel Trap app. It feels self-serving at best, and extremely confusing and overly complicated at worst.

There are better ways to exercise your memory. Unless you are already familiar with and practicing many of the techniques demonstrated in Steel Trap, skip this app.

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Dan Kricke

Dan Kricke has been playing with electronics and writing about them for years. He loved his Sega Dreamcast and now the PlayStation 3. On the iPhone, he's a fan of sports apps and anything that offers new music.

 

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