“We’re extremely powerful when it comes to making sense and finding connections, doing it visually instead of with a page.” Howard Rheingold is an eminent author, maker, and educator. His work has explored and defined key aspects of digital culture, including the use of computers as tools for mind augmentation, virtual communities, and social media literacy. In this conversation, we discuss computers as extensions for our minds, Douglas Engelbart’s unfinished revolution, basic literacies for interacting in information environments, and the resurgence of Tools for Thought.
Mark Bernstein is chief scientist of Eastgate Systems, Inc. He’s been writing hypertexts and developing hypertext authoring software since the late 1980s. Mark is the creator of Tinderbox and other tools for thinking that “harness the power of the link.” In this conversation, we discuss thinking through connected notes.
representational talkback; the design of taking notes in the present when you’re not sure how they’ll connect to ideas in the (imagined) future; The Tinderbox Way; by force, all research is bottom up.
I almost jumped yesterday when Jim Groom and the Reclaim Hosting spun up a Mastodon instance focused on DS 106 at https://social.ds106.us/about. I’ve followed a large part of that community for over a decade, but didn’t have the bandwidth.
This morning I noticed that Boris Mann and gang have spun up a Mastodon instance around the idea of tools for thought which dovetails with their efforts at Tools for Thought Rocks! So I’m going to bite there to see what happens and have the experience of a smaller specific and focused timeline to watch.
I still have to figure out how to best dovetail the experience into my own IndieWeb site given potential limitations with backfeed of POSSE posts from Brid.gy. Perhaps I’ll just use it as read only to start and simply federate my content there? We’ll see. It’s solely an experiment, but some of those few already there are people I see regularly. No guarantees on how much I’ll post there, but if it’s your favorite reader/platform you can find me at @firstname.lastname@example.org. Most likely anything I post to it will be more relevant to thinking.
As ever, following me directly via my own site is the best way to ensure you’re getting the best of everything.
A summary of the history of philosophy showing the positive/negative connections between ideas
Interestingly it has not only a spatial interface and shows spatial relationships between people and ideas over time using a timeline, but it also indicates—using colored links—the ideas of disagreement/contrast/refutation and agreement/similarity/expansion.
What other (digital) tools of thought provide these sorts of visualization affordances?
Here’s a surprisingly useful thinking tool for anybody interested in the history of Western philosophy: a sort of garden of forking paths of argument. https://t.co/AH1ophVXH8
— Daniel Dennett (@danieldennett) October 9, 2018
While Mills doesn’t delineate the steps or materials of his method of note taking the way Beatrice Webb, Langlois & Seignobos, Johannes Erich Heyde, Antonin Sertillanges, or many others have done before or Umberto Eco, Gerald Weinberg, Robert Greene/Ryan Holiday, Sönke Ahrens, or Dan Allosso since, he does focus more on the softer portions of his thinking methods and their desired outcomes and provides personal examples of how it works and what his expected outcomes are. Much like Niklas Luhmann describes in Kommunikation mit Zettelkästen (VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 1981), Mills is focusing on the thinking processes and outcomes, but in a more accessible way and with some additional depth.
Because the paper is rather short, but specific in its ideas and methods, those who finish the broad strokes of Ahrens’ book and methods and find themselves somewhat confused will more than profit from the discussion here in Mills. Those looking for a stronger “crash course” might find that the first seven chapters of Allosso (2022) along with this discussion in Mills is a straighter and shorter path.
While Mills doesn’t delineate his specific method in terms of physical materials, he does broadly refer to “files” which can be thought of as in the zettelkasten (slip box) or card index traditions. Scant evidence in the piece indicates that he’s talking about physical file folders and sheets of paper rather than slips or index cards, but this is generally irrelevant to the broader process of thinking or writing. Once can easily replace the instances of the English word “file” with the German concept of zettelkasten and not be confused.
One will note that this paper was written as a manuscript in April 1952 and was later distributed for classroom use in 1955, meaning that some of these methods were being distributed directly from professors to students. The piece was later revised and included as an appendix to Mill’s text The Sociological Imagination which was first published in 1959.
Because there aren’t specifics about Mills’ note structure indicated here, we can’t determine if his system was like that of Niklas Luhmann, but given the historical record one could suppose that it was closer to the commonplace tradition using slips or sheets. One thing becomes more clear however that between the popularity of Webb’s work and this (which was reprinted in 2000 with a 40th anniversary edition), these methods were widespread in the mid-twentieth century and specifically in the field of sociology.
Above and beyond most of these sorts of treatises on note taking method, Mills does spend more time on the thinking portions of the practice and delineates eleven different practices that one can focus on as they actively read/think and take notes as well as afterwards for creating content or writing.
My full notes on the article can be found at https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich?q=url%3Aurn%3Ax-pdf%3A0138200b4bfcde2757a137d61cd65cb8
I’ve got an online note collection similar to @JerryMichalski, but mine is more textual and less visual than his: https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich (9:19AM)
If there are folks that want to do collaborative note taking today, here’s a shared etherpad you can use for either raw text or generic wiki markdown if you like: https://etherpad.indieweb.org/ToolsForThinking (09:26AM)
How can companies like @readwise leverage some sort of standardization of text, images, data in the space to more easily provide their services to more platforms? (09:49AM)
Linus Lee’s demo looks a bit like Robin Sloan’s AI Writing experiments https://www.robinsloan.com/notes/writing-with-the-machine/ (12:50PM)
#ToolsForThinking @kevinmarks: I'll be taking notes on twitter, and posting them here afterwards https://t.co/lj133rBGMb— Kevin Marks (@kevinmarks) Aug 16, 2022
Start with a conference: On August 16th we will host a conference at betaworks, bringing together makers and thinkers in this space: Tools for thinking Render Conference. Join us if you are interested, and if you are building something in this space, tell us because we will give you an access code to join for free. The Camp or accelerator program will start in mid September, details on the program are here, and the application form is here.
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.
The minute we saw Aaron's frantic, hand-lettered presentation of the Field Notes credo we knew just what to do. And here it is. In December, when Field Notes co-founder Aaron Draplin hijacked our site to sell pre-orders of his totally amazing Leap of Faith Edition 3-Packs, we went along with it. TBH, we’ve learned over the years that once Aaron gets fixed on an idea, there’s pretty much no stopping him. However, when he sent us the artwork for the Memo Books, we decided to do little hijacking of our own. The minute we saw his frantic, hand-lettered presentation of the Field Notes credo — “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now” — we knew just what to do. And here it is.