Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trails

Have you ever read Vannevar Bush's paper "As We May Think"? It's
accessible from The Atlantic if you haven't:<http://goo.gl/9Kl6U>. I
read it for Hugh Herr's human augmentation class last spring. It's a
strikingly accurate prediction of the future of knowledge/information
access made just after WWII. I particularly like section 7 where he
talks about how little bits of information (papers/patents/images)
could be linked together to create a narrative which then reveals a
deeper insight.

There seems to be a paradigm shift in education afoot and I can't help
but think of how valuable an online community of "trailblazers" making
"knowledge trails" would be to independent learners. Got to use all
that cognitive surplus!

Some people <http://goo.gl/PdhVk> have written that the hyperlink and
Wikipedia are the fulfillment of Bush's "memex", but paths through
Wikipedia are inherently undesigned. To teach an idea, you want to
guide someone (maybe with annotations) through a series of more basic
concepts (whether article snippets, illustrations, etc.) until they
grasp and appreciate the idea. A good 'trail designer' might be highly
valued.

Others <http://goo.gl/1Q6UE> suggest that tags are Bush's trails, but
again there's no direction or design; a tag just groups a set of
related pages. I should really learn to use Delicious properly.

I think the closest parallel might be blogs, as this article suggests:
<http://goo.gl/z53Wy>. Excerpt: "A blogger can be seen as a modern
version of Vannevar Bush’s trail blazers: a person who links separate
documents together, creating a trail or a path through them for others
to follow."  Hmmmm...maybe I should start a blog and blog this.

Anyhow, there seem to be a few online tools/communities which
attempted this sort of thing, but which didn't take off (CoKnown,
Trailfire) as well as tools for tracking your path on a knowledge
search through the web, e.g.  bottom of <http://goo.gl/Ei0tL>.

I suppose a good non-fiction book author is a "trail designer". But
books are long.

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