A Phenomenology of the Clipboard

I’ve noticed: When I have an image or sentence or URL copied (or cut) to the clipboard, but not yet pasted into its destination, my left hand—with which I always perform my pasting operations—feels, somehow, different.

I struggle to describe the sensation, but my hand and wrist feel a little higher in my brain’s list of sensory priorities, like there’s an urgency attached to the nerves there. The phenomenon, albeit subtle, has nonetheless proved effective as a safeguard against the accidental overwriting of clipped items with new copy operations.

The effect is heightened with increases in a clip’s “importance,” a flexible term in this case. Usually, “importance” maps onto one of two factors, or a combination of them:

  • a lack of redundancy (the clip doesn’t exist elsewhere, or not in a readily accessible location)
  • a personal attachment to the details of the clip (I’m particularly attached to this way of structuring that paragraph and don’t want to figure it out again).

The effect is also particularly intense when the destination of the clip is unknown at the time I perform the original copy operation. In those cases, I have not only to remember to paste the clip, but also to figure out how I intend to use it. My conscious cognitive faculties are more heavily “booked,” in other words.

To recap, the intensity (and also the likelihood of occurrence) of the cognitive outsourcing effect seems to correlate independently with these two factors:

  1. an increase in the consequences of losing the clip
  2. an increase in the chance of losing the clip

It is as though my cerebral cortex, in great demand when I’m sitting at my computer doing cognitively intense work, makes use of my sensory cortex, mostly unengaged at those times, for assistance: “Here, sensory center, take this responsibility—We’re too busy.”

This is a sensible system indeed, though its effects can be distractingly intense. Sometimes, when I have failed to paste for several minutes, I often relief myself into a new text document or browser window, and the sensation quickly dissipates.

(I am then left with a separate feeling, a kind of emotional vulnerability associated with having unsaved work open. But that’s fodder for another post.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s