April 21, 2020

the digital garden

In pursuing the ideas that led me to read Tiago Forte’s essay Progressive Summarization, I also became aware of the idea of a “digital garden.” This pursuit led me to read Tom Critchlow’s post on digital gardens, which in turn I’ve summarized here.

Critchlow identifies the psychological balance between flow and stock: flow consists of a stream of information and thoughts; stock involves the content that remains relevant in the future.

We’re subject to both information flow and information stock during our interactions online. The flow of information is the currency of the modern world (clicks, likes, shares, retweets, mentions, views) but it’s difficult to keep up and to keep balance.

Critchlow finds an improvement in considering his blogging habits as performative thinking. He doesn’t really define “performative thinking” in this post, but I’d venture to say that performative thinking involves displaying the contents and growth of your ideas to the public. Your thinking is up for display much like a drama or comedy. More often than not, there’s some additional practice required to give a good performance, and very likely the effort depends on learning from or lifting others’ thinking and adopting it to one’s own style.

To return to summarizing Critchlow, he says “creative thinking is all about connecting the dots.” The digital garden, therefore, sets aside “a space for collecting (and organizing) the dots is a crucial foundation for thinking, creativity and more.”

There’s a two-step process to this: first, collect raw material and, second, think about it. The collection can come from your information flow and the collection itself, arranged in the digital garden, becomes your information stock.

Importantly, Critchlow identifies a format for building a digital garden: files and folders. This makes sense to me — a simplified effort at storing information in a flat structure allows for greater flexibility at designing the interfaces for rediscovery and remixing ideas. As an individual, you will not be subject to Big Data scaling constraints in your digital garden. So the files and folders format works nicely in giving enough ability to adjust presentation to serve your needs for creating ideas and remembering bits of knowledge.

I have now turned this blog into a digital garden with commit f69bd9d. What this means is simply that I have restructured the home page and nested the markdown files according to a scheme that makes sense for how I think about my ideas. I’m also using hugo's excellent tagging structure and templating capabilities to adjust the basic layout to my needs.

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