Using a Way-Finding Lens: Sense Making in The Second Self ✭
“He was, however, captivated by a process whereby the reflecting mechanism which the machine sets off in the workman can be studied closely, as in a mirror, in the idler.” Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” in Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books, 1969, pp. 176-177..
An elective class designed for middle school students on way finding — a combination of hands-on physical computing (e.g., prototyping robots that could turn toward and move North) and philosophy (e.g., analyzing landscape imagery in MLK’s mountaintop/promised land speech) — had a latecomer who joined us several weeks into the semester. The software Milanote was introduced after we had already begun collaborative design work, and also after we had started curating journals of our thoughts and reflections on provocations such as the question regarding MLK’s speech. Students were asked to recreate their journals in this new software. Soon after, a global pandemic closed our school’s campus, and we moved into a remote “habitus”, i.e., a disoriented, less familiar, and non-spatial environment, connected by video conference while distanced by vc’s parallax error, graininess, and lags. Milanote established some continuity in an otherwise disjointed and disrupted time. But what is it and how might it help you, or even, what does it do? In as few words as possible, here is what Milanote has done for me.
Through experience I have a sense of what software is suitable for a given task. Word processing is suited to creating or editing textual narrative, (often) a unilinear narrative form. Spreadsheets host tables and analyses of data in which narrative consists of both data and of the form/s imposed on those data. Presentation software such as Apple’s Keynote opens up wild new possibilities: it can host arrays of either of the other two narrative types (alpha-textual or cell-value/formula) plus images, plus iconography (such as arrows) often comprising the sinuous tissue of a presentation’s narrative, involving arrays of data, story, and imagery, and expositing relationships between them. Agile storytellers may deploy these different software types to create powerful narratives. What more could we want?
It turns out we want for much more. Presentation software supports neither “folders” nor folders-within-folders, such as those that typically punctuate the landscape of a computer’s “desktop”. The arrangement of these folders, their spatial situated-ness on a plane, or nested and enveloping relationships (i.e., subfolders), disclose or reveal an architecture in which my self “relates its self to its self ~ in a relation” (Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death); they are my “second self” (Turkle) manifest in a web of file and folder pathways. (This could be paraphrased using the “structure/s of care” idiom I have described elsewhere: structures of care are both things toward which I exercise solicitude, and the architecture of that solicitude.)