These days, my mind feels locked in a three-way tug-of-war. Aside from adjusting to life with a newborn (we've got 4 now!), my priorities and thoughts are wrapped around three seemingly-separate projects:
homeschooling my kids (an 8 year-old, 6 year-old, and 4 year-old)
making computers better thinking tools
remodeling our home
While these projects may seem separate, they actually fit neatly into three of my life-long passions: learning, thinking, and building. And furthermore, these are not truly distinct domains, but rather integrated parts of a whole and complete human life.
We are all learning constantly. We take in new information, learn new skills, facts, people, ideas. And learning blurs indistinctly into thinking. We apply our cognitive capacity along with the skills and facts we've learned. And what do we apply our cognitive capacities to do, but to build, to create, to manifest our ideas into the world? Learning, thinking, building are all strands of the braided rope we call life. They can't be removed any more than they can be separated.
To give a concrete example of this creative swirl in action, one of the first steps to remodeling our home is building an outdoor office and workshop. We're calling it the "shoffice" and it will be a combination woodworking shop on the bottom floor and office on the second floor. An office enables me to continue to work while our home is remodeled. The woodshop will allow me to contribute to some of the smaller projects along the way. My kids have taken a keen interest in this project, drawing up dozens of different plans for both the shoffice and our remodeled home. There's a surprising amount they could learn by participating in the project more directly. Building houses involves a surprising amount of geometry, for example. How might I integrate the building work into our school curriculum and help them learn as we build? The planning of the shoffice is a perfect place to leverage the power of the computer to think through different design choices and plan the actual build. Unsurprisingly, the tools are pretty rudimentary, and I'm pretty familiar with their shortcomings since I've been using them for a few decades now (I wrote a thesis on generative residential architecture in grad school). What kind of new interfaces and tools would allow me (and my kids!) to rapidly prototype my shoffice and surface some of the shortcomings during design, when changes are cheap?
Some examples of where learning, building, and thinking collide:
We modeled one of the designs in SketchUp and bought an Oculus Quest to see if we could walk around inside our design in virtual reality to see what it felt like. (spoiler alert: it's really hard!)
We picked one design for the shoffice and built it to scale in Minecraft.
I mocked up a simple tool for quickly generating the shoffice with a variety of heights and widths.
Tools for Thought Rocks: January Event is happening Thursday, January 27 @ 9am PT. Taylor Hadden will talk about The Road Here and the Paths Forward. Taylor will share his journey to making Tangent, what he's found most useful in working with his thoughts, and the mountains on the horizon that excite him.
Why this matters?
One of the best things about 2021 was the rush of new companies, thinkers, and tinkerers in the "tools for thought" space. It seemed that I stumbled across a new person or startup every week. I've really enjoyed hearing the perspectives and lessons learned from the new breed. They are often enlivened by the same thinkers and ideas (Bush, Licklider, Engelbart, Kay, Victor) but each brings their own spin on how to achieve the vision of "interactive intellectual amplifiers." Taylor is no exception. I look forward to getting to talk with him about how he's thinking about some of the hard problems in the space (data representation, interchange, collaboration, etc).
I'm encouraged about the potential for new funding and coordination models and building a more robust scene to drive innovation in tools for thought. Linus Lee wrote about building a research community and Andy Matuschak talked about some barriers to scene formation in his 2021 lessons learned post (private to Patreon patrons). Ben Reinhardt published a comprehensive proposal favoring funding organizations rather than projects. Molly Mielke launched a platform for building grants programs. The web3 space is experimenting with quadratic funding and retroactive public goods funding. The future is bright.