In my corner of the Internet (or dare I say “filter bubble”), I’ve seen a lot of recent conversations resurfacing the “garden vs. stream” metaphor for the web. There was also a virtual IndieWebCamp popup session about the topic, which I sadly only heard about after the fact.
To those unaware of the metaphor, its origin seems to be a 2015 keynote (or its transcript) by Mike Caulfield, “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral”. It compares most of the current web to a stream where content primarily appears in chronological order. In contrast, the garden is a hyperlinked, timeless representation of connected content.
People running personal websites as blogs are turning to wikis as a way to represent information. Anne-Laure Le Cunff of NessLabs, who was one of the main motivations for me to try Roam to organize my thoughts and research, has started Mental Nodes as her “mind garden”. It is a site based on TiddlyWiki as the published counterpart of the private research notebook. The garden metaphor and “tend to your garden” expression, both apply to hyperlinked web content as much as they do to the mind itself.
It seems to me that many people are nostalgic about the pre-blog-era web, where individual homepages served as an informal outlet for their creators. However, I think there are good reasons that the stream dominates as the primary mechanism for content creation and consumption, especially in the mainstream (pun intended!).
While our human brains are capable of networked thinking, I believe that it is an art to connect the dots of multiple areas of your life and the world around you. It is even harder to dive into the networked thoughts of another person because there is no clear path. I’m not saying it’s impossible or disagree about its value, but it’s much harder than tapping into a stream or appending your current thoughts to said stream.
People love stories and storytelling. And by that, I don’t just mean fiction, but even the kind of stories that journalists create from real-life events and those that marketers use to sell us products. A story may require some background information, but it is a coherent piece of its own. Every story we hear or read adds to our mental model of the world, even if we don’t consciously make the connections, and yet if we don’t, we can still enjoy it in itself when it appears on the stream.
Every blog post, every tweet, everything we create can be considered a snapshot of our thoughts and ideas. These are, however, polished versions, not just raw dumps. It might be pretentious to call a post like this a story or even art. However, I hope it has some value, more than what I believe access to my notes in wiki-form could provide. And it is clear that it is a snapshot of myself in May 2020, and that adds relevant context in case my opinions evolve or change in the future.
Therefore, I’m unlikely to publish a mind garden for myself, but I’m happy to continue streaming stories to you.