Tangible Associations

After experimenting with other think tools, I understand better how the “magic” of my tool works: it makes associations tangible. It turns elusive mental relationships into “hands on” experience, and it compensates for the abstractness of some thought links, with a drawn line “at our fingertips”.


Many tools aim at a similar effect with their representation of our ideas, concepts, notes, text snippets and thought fragments: Each single idea is reified by one individual virtual index card on a cork board, or by a yellow rectangle that evokes the impression of a post-it which can be grasped and moved. One thought, one object.

The haptic impression caters to our worldly nature, and it mitigates the alienating virtual constructs that plague our everyday life as knowledge workers. And there are many occasions where people even insist upon the genuinely haptic tools such as their paper notebook, their fountain pen, or the brainstorming with paper post-its. I understand this preference even better since I can use a pen again on my Surface tablet, for handwriting and drawing, and to substitute both the mouse and (mostly) the keyboard.

The haptic representation of individual ideas is a useful thing, and Heiko’s iMapping (see my last post) does this better than any other tool I know. The items feel like “on your fingertips”.

But what about the links between the items? A complex network consists of nodes and relationships. Since I have encountered DeepaMehta many years ago, I have learned that these relationships can be recorded and manipulated in a similarly tangible way.

Now I tried this in an even more manifest way: Draw the lines with the pen. It is not as optimal as with the mouse (since I cannot use the third button and not even the Alt key), but it is excitingly “haptic”.

A similar tradeoff must be made when it comes to prioritizing nodes versus links. In Heiko’s tool, the notes feel a bit more tangible than my little circles which are 1 click and an eye saccade movement away from their detail. But in return, my links feel easier, and closer to the thoughts they are connecting, because the map is optimized for conserving space, since it is not intended as a long-term store (of items) but as an ad-hoc overview where you drop various text snippets to connect them. Because, you know, connectivism discovered that connections are more interesting than mere items.

Just try it out.

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