Engelbart mind dump

Some stream of consciousness blogging tonight…

I’m having a hard time reading these “historic” new media papers without thinking on the context on campus recently. Most faculty, and certainly most who wanted them, received an iPad over the summer. While I’ve been using one for over a year, I went from being the sole user in nearly every meeting I went to, to being one of a rather large crowd.

So, with all of these ideas for storing and retrieving information, I keep thinking of just how much information is on my iPad/iPod, and how much more is so easily accessible whenever I’m in the range of a free wi-fi signal. That said, I’m not sure that our ability to process and interpret all of the information is keeping pace with the availability and easy access of ever more information.

Another connection: This essay had me thinking of the productivity method known as GTD, or Getting Things Done (David Allen, Amazon link, one of many sites with more info here: 43 folders). In this system, you effectively devote one page (or card) to each project in your life. You attach to each project the next task (in a very doable, defined way), and you may also attach a context (eg, where it might happen). This seemed to be related to the idea between Engelbart’s cards — where each card has one idea, though it includes any references and connections as well. (As a side note, I aspire to GTD, but by this point in the semester, the only system that really works for me is triage…)

The other aspect that struck me was his discussion of structuring (pg 103, 1st full paragraph):

We usually string Statement B after Statement A, with Statements C, D, E, F, and so on following in that order…

One of my usually courses is a writing intensive senior ecology lab course. One week in lab (just happened to be last week) is devoted to looking at a scientific paper not for the science, but for the structure and the ways information such as statistics are presented effectively. One of the things I point out to them is the futility of trying to put together what is effectively a scientific manuscript by starting at the title and working their way through to the end. One easy way to make that point is to ask them what the abstract is. Of course, they know it’s a summary of the paper as a whole. It’s then easy to point out to them the difficulty in summarizing things that don’t yet exist. To be fair, Engelbart does go on to say that often more complex structures are more useful, and he’s not really talking about anything that ends up in a manuscript. But the tendency to try to start with A, and then work your way through to Z is a strong one.

Edited to add: After posting this, I remembered that I forgot to mention that GTD is all about augmentation. The whole philosophy is that by getting project management out of your head and onto paper (or into a computer or your iPad or wherever else — there’s a whole industry of apps and applications for GTD users), you free your mind up to do the creative work. It’s also supposed to help get rid of clutter, and anyone who has seen my office knows that that would be a good thing.


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