Thoughts about Robin Sloan’s Spring ’83 Experiment

I’ve been thinking about Robin Sloan‘s Spring ’83 Experiment on and off for a bit.

I too almost immediately thought of and its nudge at shifting the importance of content based on time and recency. I’d love to have a social reader with additional affordances for both this time shifting and Ton’s idea of reading based on social distance.

I’m struck by the seemingly related idea of Peter Hagen’s LindyLearn platform and annotations which focuses on taking some of the longer term interesting ideas as the basis for browsing and chewing on. Though even here, one needs some of the odd, the cutting edge, and the avant garde in their balanced internet diet. Would Spring ’83 provide some of this?

I’m also struck by some similarities this has with the idea of Derek Siver’s /now page movement. I see some updating regularly while others have let it slip by the wayside. Still the “board” of users exists, though one must click through a sea of mostly smiling and welcoming faces to get to it the individual pieces of content. (The smiling faces are more inviting and personal than the cacophony of yelling and chaos I see in models for Spring ’83.) This reminds me of Stanley Meyers’ frequent assertion that he attempted to design a certain “sense of quiet” into the early television show Dragnet to balance the seeming loudness of the everyday as well as the noise of other contemporaneous television programming.

The form reminds me a bit of the signature pages of one’s high school year book. But here, instead of the goal being timeless scribbles, one has the opportunity to change the message over time. Does the potential commercialization of the form (you know it will happen in a VC world crazed with surveillance capitalism) follow the same trajectory of the old college paper facebook? Next up,!

Beyond the thing as a standard, I wondered what the actual form of Spring ’83 adds to a broader conversation? What does it add to the diversity of voices that we don’t already see in other spaces. How might it be abused? Would people come back to it regularly? What might be its emergent properties? This last is hard to know without experimenting at larger scales.

It definitely seems quirky and fun in and old school web sort of way, but it also stresses me out looking at the zany busyness of some of the examples of magazine stands. The general form reminds me of the bargain bins at book stores which have the promise of finding valuable hidden gems and at an excellent price, but often the ideas and quality of what I find usually isn’t worth the discounted price and the return on investment is rarely worth the effort. How might this get beyond these forms?

It also brings up the idea of what other online forms we may have had with this same sort of raw experimentation? How might the internet have looked if there had been a bigger rise of the wiki before that of the blog? What would the world be like if Webmention had existed before social media rose to prominence? Did we somehow miss some interesting digital animals because the web rose so quickly to prominence without more early experimentation before its “Cambrian explosion”?

I’ve been thinking about distilled note taking forms recently and what a network of atomic ideas on index cards look like and what emerges from them. What if the standard were digital index cards that linked and cross linked to each other, particularly in a world without adherence to time based orders and streams? What does a new story look like if I can pull out a card either at random or based on a single topic and only see it or perhaps some short linked chain of ideas (mine or others) which come along with it? Does the choice of a random “Markov monkey” change my thinking or perspective? What comes out of this jar of Pandora? Is it just a new form of cadavre exquis?

This standard has been out for a bit and presumably folks are experimenting with it. What do the early results look like? How are they using it? Do they like it? Does it need more scale? What do small changes make to the overall form?

For more on these related ideas and the experiment, see some of these threads of conversation I’m aware of:

Know of others? I’m happy to aggregate them here.

Featured image: Collection of 1990s 88×31 buttons by

Annotated The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp and Mark ReiterTwyla Tharp and Mark Reiter (Simon & Schuster)

She puts the ideas together and tries to broker a deal for the conglomerate to acquire a radio network. At the end, she’s challenged to describe how she came up with the plan for the acquisition. It’s a telling scene. She has just been fired. On her way out of the building, with all her files and personal items packed in a box (a box just like mine!), she gets a chance to explain her thought process to the mogul:

See? This is Forbes. It’s just your basic article about how you were looking to expand into broadcasting. Right? Okay now. The same day—I’ll never forget this—I’m reading Page Six of the New York Post and there’s this item on Bobby Stein, the radio talk show guy who does all those gross jokes about Ethiopia and the Betty Ford Center. Well, anyway, he’s hosting this charity auction that night. Real bluebloods and won’t that be funny? Now I turn the page to Suzy who does the society stuff and there’s this picture of your daughter—see, nice picture—and she’s helping to organize the charity ball. So I started to think: Trask, Radio, Trask, Radio.... So now here we are.

He’s impressed and hires her on the spot. Forget the fairy-tale plot; as a demonstration of how to link A to B and come up with C, Working Girl is a primer in the art of scratching. 

The plot twist at the end of Working Girl (Twentieth Century Fox, 1988) turns on Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) explaining her stroke of combinatorial creativity in coming up with a business pitch. Because she had juxtaposed several disparate ideas from the New York Post several pages from each other in a creative way, she got the job and Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) is left embarrassed because she can’t explain how she came up with a complicated combination of ideas.

Tess McGill (portrayed by a big 80's haired Melanie Griffith) packing a brown banker's box with her office items and papers leaving her office and her job.
A Working Girl’s Zettelkasten

Tess McGill has slips of newspaper with ideas on them and a physical box to put them in.

slips with ideas + box = zettelkasten

Bonus points because she links her ideas, right?!

Annotated Marshall Kirkpatrick on source selection, connecting ideas, diverse thinking, and enabling serendipity (Ep14) by Ross Dawson (Thriving on Overload)

Marshall’s method for connecting which he calls Triangle Thinking (26:41) 

Marshall Kirkpatrick describes a method of taking three ostensibly random ideas and attempting to view each from the others’ perspectives as a way to create new ideas by linking them together.

This method is quite similar to that of Raymond Llull as described in Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory (UChicago Press, 1966), though there Llull was memorizing and combinatorially permuting 20 or more ideas at a time. It’s also quite similar to the sort of meditative practice found in the lectio divina, though there ideas are generally limited to religious ones for contemplation.

Other examples:

Replied to a tweet by TfT Hacker - Exploring Tools for Thought and PKM (Twitter)
Good tools for thought encourage or allow me to:

  • Easily and quickly capture interesting ideas and their original or related contexts so I can artificially remember more of what I’ve seen, read, and thought.
  • Link these ideas to related and non-related ideas and contexts.
  • Dramatically accelerates the creation of new ideas with respect to combinatorial creativity and ideas having sex.
  • Have a greater ability to focus on bigger ideas by letting me forget some less familiar minutiae. I can think more by remembering less though repeated good ideas filter up to the top and through repeated linking and use are more easily remembered.
A lot of this metaverse business sounds like what Ramon Llull was creating in the 13th century with his art of memory and combinatoric wheels. Admittedly, it was a single user space, but he was creating images in his mind and then combinatorically combining them with each other to create new external/imagined ideas, thoughts, and experiences.

It gets (a lot) complicated to see this without significant background reading and experience of what he was doing. (I think even Frances Yates misunderstood some of his intention in her magisterial tome.)

IndieWeb is doing some of what he imagined, but rather than doing it in our physical brains (memory), we’re doing together from website to website in a similar communal manner.

Read Seneca on Gathering Ideas And Combinatorial Creativity (Farnam Street)
“Combinatory play,” said Einstein, “seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” Ruminating on the necessity of both reading and writing, so as not to confine ourselves to either, Seneca in one of his Epistles, advised that we engage in Combinatorial Creativity — that is, gath...

“Combinatory play,” said Einstein, “seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” 

excellent quote

Annotated on May 20, 2020 at 12:17AM

cull the flowers 

definitely reminiscent of the idea of floriligeum (or anthology)

Annotated on May 20, 2020 at 12:19AM

The Loeb Classic Library collection of Seneca’s Epistles in three volumes (1-65, 66-92, and 92-124), should be read by all in its entirety. Of course, if you don’t have time to read them all, you can read a heavily curated version of them. 

Annotated on May 20, 2020 at 12:21AM

Read Commonplace Books: Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity (Farnam Street)
Commonplace books are personal knowledge libraries; notebooks full of collected ideas and bits of wisdom all mixed up together. Here, we take a look at their history and benefits.
There is an old saying that the truest form of poverty is “when you have occasion for anything, you can’t use it...

Early compilations involved various combinations of four crucial operations: storing, sorting, selecting, and summarizing, which I think of as the four S’s of text management. We too store, sort, select, and summarize information, but now we rely not only on human memory, manuscript, and print, as in earlier centuries, but also on computer chips, search functions, data mining, and Wikipedia, along with other electronic techniques. 

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 10:38PM

“In his influential De Copia (1512),” writes Professor Richard Yeo, “Erasmus advised that an abundant stock of quotations and maxims from classical texts be entered under various loci (places) to assist free-flowing oratory.”
Arranged under ‘Heads’ and recorded as ‘common-places’ (loci communes), these commonplace books could be consulted for speeches and written compositions designed for various situations — in the law court, at ceremonial occasions, or in the dedication of a book to a patron. Typical headings included the classical topics of honour, virtue, beauty, friendship, and Christian ones such as God, Creation, faith, hope, or the names of the virtues and vices. 

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 10:51PM

Commonplace books, during the Renaissance, were used to enhance the memory. Yeo writes,
This reflected the ancient Greek and Roman heritage. In his Topica, Aristotle formulated a doctrine of ‘places’ (topoi or loci) that incorporated his ten categories. A link was soon drawn between this doctrine of ‘places’ (which were, for Aristotle, ‘seats of arguments’, not quotations from authors) and the art of memory. Cicero built on this in De Oratore, explaining that ‘it is chiefly order that gives distinctness to memory’; and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria became an influential formulation. This stress on order and sequence was the crux of what came to be known as ‘topical memory’, cultivated by mnemonic techniques (‘memoria technica’) involving the association of ideas with visual images. These ideas, forms of argument, or literary tropes were ‘placed’ in the memory, conceived in spatial terms as a building, a beehive, or a set of pigeon holes. This imagined space was then searched for the images and ideas it contained…. In the ancient world, the practical application of this art was training in oratory; yet Cicero stressed that the good orator needed knowledge, not just rhetorical skill, so that memory had to be trained to store and retrieve illustrations and arguments of various kinds. Although Erasmus distrusted the mnemonic arts, like all the leading Renaissance humanists, he advocated the keeping of commonplace books as an aid to memory. 

I particularly love the way this highlights the phrase “‘placed’ in the memory” because the idea of loci as a place has been around so long that we tacitly use it as a verb so naturally in conjunction with memory!

Note here how the author Richard Yeo manages not to use the phrase memory palace or method of loci.Was this on purpose?
Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 10:56PM

While calling memory “the store-house of our ideas,” John Locke recognized its limitations.
On the one hand, it was an incredible source of knowledge.
On the other hand, it was weak and fragile. He knew that over time, memory faded and became harder to retrieve, which made it less valuable. 

As most humanists of the time may have had incredibly well-trained memories (particularly in comparison with the general loss of the art now), this is particularly interesting to me. Having had a great memory, the real value of these writings and materials is to help their memories dramatically outlive their own lifetimes. This is particularly useful as their systems of passing down ideas via memory was dramatically different than those of indigenous peoples who had a much more institutionalized version of memory methods and passing along their knowledge.

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 11:00PM

“Extraordinary Commonplaces,” Robert Darnton 

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 11:03PM

Neither ought anything to be collected whilst you are busied in reading; if by taking the pen in hand the thread of your reading be broken off, for that will make the reading both tedious and unpleasant. 

This is incredibly important for me, though in a more technology friendly age, I’ve got tools like for quickly highlighting and annotating pages and can then later collect them into my commonplace book as notes to work with and manage after-the-fact.

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 11:07PM

The aim of these books wasn’t regurgitation but rather combinatorial creativity. People were encouraged to improvise on themes and topics. Gathering raw material alone — in this case, information — is not enough. We must transform it into something new. It is in this light that Seneca advised copying the bee and Einstein advised combinatorial play. 

I was really hoping for so much more in this essay on the combinatorial creativity, espcially since the author threw the idea into the title. The real meat must be in the two linked articles about Seneca and Einstein.

There is a slight mention of combinatorics in the justaposition of pieces within one’s commonplace book, and a mention that these books may date back to the 12th century where they were probably more influenced by the combinatoric creativity of Raymond Lull. It’s still an open question for me just how far back the idea of commonplaces goes as well as how far back Lull’s combinatoric pieces go…

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 11:13PM

Read John Locke’s Method of Organizing Common Place Books (Farnam Street)
“You know that I voluntarily communicated this method to you, as I have done to many others, to whom I believed it would not be unacceptable.”  In 1685 English physician and philosopher John Locke published “Méthode nouvelle de dresser des recueils,” which explains his unique method of ind...

People in the Renaissance broke texts into fragments and used these to assemble and connect. It was, perhaps, the original remix culture and ultimate foundation of creativity. 

I’m wondering if I’m going to see signs of Raymond Lull’s ideas here?

Annotated on May 19, 2020 at 10:05PM