Monday, 17 September 2012

"the web, the chain, the tree"

Last week I went to a talk by Steven Pinker on elements of style ( Of the whole talk, what I found most memorable was his description of the data structures for the representation of information: as he puts it - 'the web, the chain, the tree'. Our ideas are stored as an interconnected web, and we are often faced with the dilemma of writing them down in a linear structure (one sentence at a time, transitioning between at most two ideas: the previous, and the current sentence). To do this, we arrange our web into a hierarchy of ideas, which then dictates the overall order in which we can express it. In other words, we go from web to hierarchy, and then parse the hierarchy to arrive at a linear structure which we can put down on paper. This is a great way to put it! I've always been faced with the dilemma of wanting to say too many things at once, transitioning from any one idea to ten others, but have always been constrained by the necessary linear ordering of paragraphs. By the time you're done explaining the connection between the first and second ideas, you've lost a possible transition from the first to the third ideas (often requiring a return to the first idea and a new transition). I don't think this linear structure serves as a great representation of the ideas I want to express - I'd much rather hand in my essays in web form...

The Memex

Interesting article:
Idea put forth by Vannevar Bush in 1945. Precursor to hyperlinking, but detailing a much grander idea of personal paths through collections of information. A user would indicate a linear sequence ("personal trail") for working through information, motivated by personal associations. Supplementing this with personal notes, the result could be stored and shared with others.