An article in today’s The Verge caused much excitement saying that students do no longer understand how files and folders work on a computer. Much of the discussion is about whether they should know how apps work ‘under the hood’. I think this is an unfortunate distraction. What is really a shame is that modern apps and operating sytems keep them away from using files and folders — from using their own files and folders.
They rob modern users of so much useful functionality.
- Most prominently, to browse through their own savings, with the affordance of ‘I know it when I see it’, i.e., without the need to specify any search words;
- hence, to use sloppy, short or cryptic file names, rather than agonizing over meaningful names, because the file names only need to be recognizable within the local context of the respective folder;
- hence, to speed up capturing notes (see a video of my own practice);
- as a side effect, to reactivate the neighboring context, with possible serendipituous findings (like Luhmann);
- moreover, to keep related stuff together, independently of the apps that created it, such as URLs and references, rough sketches and finished diagrams, short drafted text snippets and long refined writings (see some pictures of my own practice);
- hence, to include extremely simple apps such as Notepad on Windows, for very quick capturing of ideas, and as a distraction-free preliminary format;
- and to include shortcuts to other folders (which are very important for me, see #4 habit, and which BTW work much better in Windows than the ‘symlinks’ or ‘aliases’ of the competitors do, because these obscure their special role and hence obfuscate a clear structure).
Bloated applications push their own organizing structure into the foreground as if there were no alternative; they are addicting prostheses rather than empowering tools for work, and this is the no longer just patronizing, but gaslighting and stultification.