The biggest challenge for a think-tool is to accommodate all three possible shapes, or modalities, that conceptual connections may adopt:
- visual (line on a topic map),
- verbal (hyperlink in a wiki or other hypertext), and
- virtual/ hidden (database-like relatedness to be selectively revealed).
Conceptual relationships are fundamental to connective knowledge, and they appear in the above three different forms in different situations.
- When text grows too much for diagram annotation, we must switch to a hypertext representation of the shown items as pages and their relationships as links;
- when the visualized items become too numerous to overlook, we must put them in some kind of database to generate smaller views or selections on demand.
During the reflection/ idea generation/ learning process, the perceived form of the connections among concepts often changes:
- From mindmap lines while brainstorming,
- to links between text snippets in a wiki for note-taking,
- to hyperlinks or footnotes in a paper while further elaborating the ideas,
- to category affiliations and tags while clustering and organizing,
- to matching assertions when querying different tag collections
- to vaguely perceived relationships among the abounding retrieved texts,
- to sketched lines in an attempt to condense the essentials into a topic map, where thy cycle starts anew.
Also, the modality seeming most appropriate varies during communication processes. When presenting one’s thoughts to others it is no longer applicable to use one’s own favorite representation but to try to adapt to the needs and preferences of the audience, and still the conversation partners often need to re-shape the presented connections for themselves to understand them, e. g., condense them from text to a sketch or explicate a diagram using annotations.
Therefore, it is even more desirable to have tools which can simultaneously handle several different representations. In fact, we need all three.
Current personal productivity tools, however, are trying to hide the need of switching between the different modalities of concept connections. The trend is
- to make the tools extremely simple in a uniform way
- for everybody and for every situation,
- ignoring reflection life-cycle and cognitive styles) –
- and to discharge the user from the “cognitive burden” of selecting the appropriate tools and shape at any one time, by making them transparent and overly integrated.
Most of them don’t work for me. More details in the next post.
(This one was also a wrap-up retrospect of the focus topics of my last years postings.)