From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

June 27, 2007*: and that, and that, oh, and that ...

At a certain point in the preparation of this column I realized that I'd collected many more materials than I'd actually be able, or even want, to put into one column. What's more, what seemed to most connect between all of the materials I'd collected was the fact that they were almost glaringly unrelated. It was at about that same time that I realized that throughout the four paragraphs that I'd sketched out for myself, perhaps five of my sentences were opening sentences, rather than further developments on a basic idea. I liked each of those sentences, but a lead sentence is supposed to lead somewhere, rather than simply introduce, again and again, a topic that doesn't really receive any further development. In this case, rather than jumping off from those opening sentences, or using them as diving boards for plunging into a discussion of a distinct idea, I seemed to be hovering above any real discussion, remaining in a sort-of continual holding pattern around a core idea that for some reason didn't receive any further expansion.

One of the ways of perhaps getting out of such a holding pattern is to simply sit down and write, in the hope that any useful ideas that might merit further development will somehow emerge. If I could do that, with a bit of luck I might be able to whittle away the superfluous, or at least repetitive, parts and focus on the worthwhile ideas, the convincing phrases, that I might cull from that onslaught of writing. I might have to wander through some forty sentences, but in the end I might also succeed in arriving at the promised land of a central developable theme. And that's precisely what I tried to do. If anyone is actually reading this particular column, and has the feeling that it's even partially coherent, perhaps I succeeded.

But as I wrote I also realized that the difficulty that I was encountering stemmed from an almost inherent incompatibility between the tool with the task. Here I was, trying to use the World Wide Web to help me focus my thinking, when clearly what the web was best at doing was scattering that thinking, breaking it into a myriad of pieces that might be held together only through some magical sleight of hand. Lately, due primarily to numerous work-related tasks, my use of the internet has primarily been pragmatic and instrumental. It's been task oriented, focused on getting a particular job done. There's nothing out of the ordinary about that, and certainly nothing wrong with it, except perhaps that web surfing at it's essence (or at least one of its essences) would seem to be an opened-ended, process-oriented, rather than a product-oriented, activity. And as task-oriented as I sometimes actually have to be, one of my greatest pleasures is simply wandering from link to link, from idea to idea, from association to association, wondering whether the connections I find are really there, whether the trains of thought I travel rest on identifiable tracks that connect between the various items I touch upon, or whether these connections are no more than temporary constructs that take fleeting shape only in the eyes of the for-the-time-being beholder.

Thoughts along these lines are far from new territory for the Boidem. Quite the opposite - the desirability of the winding path over the parking lot at its end is a recurring theme in these columns. My two year birthday column, for instance (still one of my favorites) tried to create a sense of the limitless possibilities that can be milked from the lowly link. Over the years numerous other columns eschewed any particular content, any distinct point that might have been begging to be made, in order to focus on the process of associative hypertexting itself. Of late I've felt the tension between my ingrained desire to "use" the web in this way, and the demands of my present day-to-day internet-related work, work that requires a good deal of web surfing, but surfing that is primarily focused, with a definable enough goal such that, at the end of the line, I can determine whether I've actually accomplished what I've set out to do. Left to my own wandering nature, "working" late into the night, and presumably not on company time, I can allow myself to indulge in the almost childlike pleasure of simply clicking on whatever seems to attract my attention, until at some point I almost stop in my tracks, feeling the delightful question of "how did I end up here?" bursting into (or out of) my thoughts.

I doubt that there's any tangible connection between these hypertextual musings and the concept of evolution and/or intelligent design. But (at least as an example) as this column was taking shape I was also clicking back and forth between writing a few sentences, and reading an article on that topic. Thus, perhaps inevitably, metaphors stemming from those concepts crept into my writing. That sort of thing probably happens all the time, but as we write we become more acutely aware of the influences around us, we take greater note of context. We're more receptive toward the possibility of juxtaposition, such than when it winks at us, we actually catch the hint. These thoughts seem to be at least partially related to the miscellany of David Weinberger's only recently published Everything is Miscellaneous. Did that book come to mind because of the topic of this column, or was the choosing of the topic for this column a function of the fact that lately I've been examining issues connected to that book? I'm not sure that I have an answer to that question, but it certainly merits being asked.

In the light of my earlier stated claim in this column, that a great deal of my internet-related work of late has been heavily task-oriented, it seems fair to ask whether this entire column has actually been little more than an attempt to put myself back off the track? Perhaps. At the very least, it's allowed me the opportunity to use the web in the manner I find most enjoyable, while at the same time maintaining the impression that I've got a more productive purpose. It's a nice trick if you can pull it off. Perhaps I have.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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