Readings: 20 Aug 2016

My hypertext idealism is still alive – and stirred today by Mike Caulfield’s“The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral”, describing his experience of maintaining a federated personal wiki.

And weirdly, these links were compiled over the space of a year, just by noting things I learned or heard and linking them to things I’d heard before or that others had written. I created a wiki on issues of found art without even knowing it.

This experience has radically changed me, to the point I find it hard to communicate with a lot of technologists anymore. It’s like trying to explain literature to someone who has never read a book. You’re asked “So basically a book is just words someone said written down?” And you say no, it’s more than that. But how is it more than that?

This is my attempt to abstract from this experience something more general about the way in which we collaborate on the web, and the way in which it is currently very badly out of balance..

I am going to make the argument that the predominant form of the social web – that amalgam of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, forums, Reddit, Instagram – is an impoverished model for learning and research and that our survival as a species depends on us getting past the sweet, salty fat of “the web as conversation” and on to something more timeless, integrative, iterative, something less personal and less self-assertive, something more solitary yet more connected.

I absolutely loved this essay. Ever since reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From — my first introduction to the idea of a commonplace book  — I’ve been highlighting, transcribing, and compiling excerpts from things I read (books and around the web, thanks to Instapaper’s Highlights feature1. I haven’t figured out how I want to share all of those highlights and notes systematically, but that’s one of my eventual goals for this site. Something like how Steven Johnson uses DEVONthink to organize his research and reading, but made social. Right now, I just have this pastiche of index cards in a file box, a DEVONthink database, this blog, Evernote, and a variety of notebooks. My friends thinks I’m a little bonkers, but I think Mouse Reeves probably understands:

Like most people, I catalogue all the books I own and ingest them into a graph database with a node representing each book, and relationships between books that are weighted to represent the number of things they have in common (same author, shared characters or settings, published in the same year, et cetera).


  1. Which itself is the last remnants of Findings, a service for social commonplacing that Steven Johnson helped start. 
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