Why I am not entirely digital yet - Tactical Ninja
Mar. 8th, 2012
10:10 am - Why I am not entirely digital yet
Yesterday's discussion of notes seemed to conclude that for most people, their notes only came in useful if they were teaching. However, books and articles were worth keeping. Naturally, this led to some discussion of hard copy vs digital, and various forms of markup. I'm quite a fan of digital storage and have all of my useful reference information in that format. But when it comes to working with a lot of information I like to have hard copies as well. Partly this is about screen real estate - I like to be able to see all my info at once and for that I'd need a dozen decent sized monitors.
"But... tabs!" I hear you say. Well yes, tabs. Just like yes, .pdf markup facilitation. And here's where I'm struggling with the difference between how my mind works and digital methods of organising information.
Below are a couple of pictures. They're of the sort of mapping I do when I'm planning out an essay. The first is the one I worked off to write about the development of Anonymous into a social movement, the second is the one I worked off to write about the issues surrounding implementation of green technology as a solution to the climate change problem.
Almost everything that's in this ended up in the essay and it more or less follows the flow that it's written out in.
Likewise this one, although at 1200 words I had to drop stuff so I didn't mention Kevin Cudby or the loss of funding to Scion or wireless electric car battery charging. I may even have missed tidal energy in favour of something I could pin to NZ's specific greenhouse gas problems (agriculture, essentially).
The point is that this style of mapping/markup/whatever you want to call it is important to my process, and while it looks like a dog's breakfast it's actually a pretty accurate and useful guide for me when I'm writing. When I make these, it's usually over a period of days or weeks. They start off pretty tidy (you can see on the green tech one that I even attempted to stay on the lines for a while) but as the idea becomes more refined the page gets messier, more arrows get drawn, stuff gets circled and highlighted and whatnot - and what pops out the other end is a cohesive, well argued, organised essay that gets me an A+ (on both counts).
I have yet to find a digital app that lets me do this in a similar way, as easily and conveniently as a paper notebook. And part of the deal there is the same as above - I like to be able to see everything at once because that's how my memory works.
I have an exceptionally good memory - it's how I got through high school with good marks. Not because I'm particularly clever, but because I remember stuff. And the way I remember is by association. When I want to recall a particular fact, my mind creates a picture of where I learned it - was I sitting at my computer, what position was I sitting in, what did the screen look like? If it was in a lecture, where was the lecturer standing in relation to where I was sitting, what frame of mind was I in, what pattern did the stuff up on the screen make? If I want to remember what someone said, it's where were we, what were we doing at the time, what were they wearing? And to remember where something is, what was happening last time I used it?
As my mind fills in more details of what was going on around the thing I want to remember, the thing itself comes into sharper focus and it's really quite amazing how detailed this memory can get. Which is why I can often quote people word for word on things they said or find a passage in a book of 1000 pages without an index. Not because I've committed it to memory verbatim, but because I remember everything around it - their facial expression, the shape the paragraphs on that page made, that kind of thing - and doing that replays the whole scene like a movie in my head.
Now when it comes to digital markup, I find these associations a lot harder to make, because they all look more or less the same. I'm getting better at it and certainly things like OneNote and EverNote and Mendeley are becoming more usable for me - but at this point I've yet to find a tool that allows me to mark things up in a way that I can return to and still find useful. You see, while I have a selection of colours and boxes and arrows and stuff I could use, the effort required to make them sufficiently different for me to remember them (and thus be able to refer back quickly) is more than it'd take to scribble in a book or on a hard copy.
This is one of the reasons I'm so taken with Prezi - it's probably the closest thing I've seen to the way I like to work in terms of just plonking stuff wherever you want and zooming around in it - and importantly, being able to zoom out and see your whole process at once if you need to. But even then, there's an element of samey-ness and extra effort that puts me off using it instead of spreading stuff all over the floor and drawing on it - and remembering that the one by that discarded sock is the one about the connection between institutionalised racism and the removal of 'crack babies' from their mothers, with the quote about the use of particular cultures' drugs of choice to marginalise them and thus rationalise that the poverty inflicted on them by economic policy is actually their own fault, on the 7th page with a big ring around it and an exclamation mark (Logan, 1999).
So yeah, invent me one that'll do that please. ;-)
Here's a thing that came via dreadbeard. It's a Firefox addon that makes a map of all the sites that are tracking what you do online as you surf. Here's my map from last night:
Those three large red dots in the middle are the ones that are tracking my activity on the most sites - doubleclick.net, quantserve.com, and scorecardresearch.com. The four big grey dots in the middle are Facebook (the biggest), google, twitter, and interestingly, googlesyndication. So while Facebook has the most links, if you add google and googlesyndication together, I'm actually being watched more by google. However, I actually USE google. In my browsing last night I did not use Facebook at all. I don't have a Facebook. Yet it manages to be the biggest site (that isn't actually a tracking site itself) for linking to things that track. And you'll see that doubleclick on the right is showing tracking of me on Facebook (that I didn't go to). Weird.
Meanwhile, here's a thing about wastewater measurement of drug use. You'll note they say abuse, which IMO is misleading. It's assuming that any use of an illegal substance is abuse and that's simply not true. I can see why Julian Buchanan has an issue with it if the type of people using it have that mindset. Personally, I'd like to use it to demonstrate the opposite - "Hey look how much ecstasy got taken this weekend! And NOBODY DIED! Why is this illegal again? And btw check out that alcohol consumption vs hospitalisation figures" etc.