Gagging on Document Soup
In a recent editorial, long-time Macworld magazine correspondent Christopher Breen asks, “The folder hierarchy has always been a construct to help us visualize how our files are organized, but it’s only a construct. So what’s to keep us from doing away with the abstractions and instead thinking of our stuff as ‘just available’?” The answer is, “our sanity.”
Today in the Finder, we locate documents by remembering where we filed them on our hard drive. In Christopher’s world of the future, we let the computer file our documents away. Since only the computer knows where our documents reside, retrieving a document will depend upon how well the computer is able to figure out which document we want. If Spotlight search is any indication of that experience, retrieving just one document will mean telling our computer, “no, not that one” several hundred times.
But the larger problem with this vision of the future is the notion that documents live separate from each other. That this photo of a dry-rotted beam is just a photo, unrelated to this Word document that holds a write-up of my repair job proposal, or this vcard with my client’s contact information. In Christopher’s world, where everything lives in a sort of “document soup,” there is no way for me to create an association between these separate documents.
These are the very kinds of associations NoteBook and other notebook software was designed to foster: enter some notes, drag in some documents, and now you have a Notebook page with the notes from your discussion with your client, a photo of the damaged beam, a Word document with your proposal, and even your client’s contact information linked from the Contacts app. NoteBook’s popularity, and everyday common sense, show that making these kinds of associations are vital to how we think about and access our information. It’s about much more than our stuff just being available.