Recently, there has been much buzz, even a “#cult”, about a new think tool that did not impress me at all.
What does it offer that seems so fascinating to some enthusiasts? It offers hyperlinks, backlinks, and autolinks (“unlinked references”). OK, hyperlinks are not very uncommon in online texts; backlinks are not very exciting if the links are also strokes on a map. And automatically generated links — I have more hesitation than fascination for them.
In my experience, automatic links tend to clutter up my display, both in text views and map views. Often they link things together that only incidentally share a term, and as in most search results, the ‘hits’ are often a miss. Often they are redundant and just add the transitive composition of two existent links.
So with this tool, my workflow would need another step, where I sift through the matches, deciding if these links are valuable serendipity, or clutter.
But I don’t like to sift through. With the information tsunami of the online world, this sifting habit has become a big ugly part of our lives. Yes, we are getting better at that and faster (to the extent that our reading habits are altered). But it is straining and makes tired. My guess is, this is because the workflow sequence is externally prescribed by the list from the machine, rather than by our own self-determination and discretion.
(I don’t like linear lists, generally. Probably for the above reason, that my mind feels somehow patronized and channeled with ‘leading-strings’. The long indented bullet lists of the hyped tool, are another feature that puts me off.)
At first sight, of course, the serendipitous matches catch one’s eye, and they probably cause a fascination for the results that are automatically (automagically) generated. And “networked thought” is a great idea (I use that term myself on my experimental quotation maps and pages). But once a tool is so autonomous that my own thinking process is interfered with, I react old-fashioned and become a Luddite.
So maybe I can generalize this sentiment: I don’t want the tool to present me with many artificial creations, or to dominate our joint efforts, but to augment my own way of doing it. I want a multi-purpose tool like a ‘hammer’ that fits closely in my hand, rather than an autonomous machine that spits out the ‘deus ex machina’, or generates hundreds of artificial thoughts that I need to sift through. If the tool’s strength is coping with the multitude of ideas, it can serve me well if it just sorts that multitude — such that browsing the list feels more intuitive and less straining.
Think tools should not consume my attention with their autonomous creations, but help me sorting things out for myself.