This page is about the idea of gardening, and how sending digital care packages + going on and sharing internet strolls and rabbit holes might be two small ways to garden on the web.
It’s one of three on the idea of ‘making a place on the web.’ See the rest here: Project - Making a Place on the Web.
To begin, I want to think about ‘gardening’ through Michael Pollan’s essay Beyond Wilderness and Lawn. In it, he distinguishes three ways of treating nature: as lawn, as wilderness, and as garden.
‘Lawn’ is nature as put under complete control, thoroughly domesticated, tightly cropped.
‘Wilderness’ is nature as sacred, something to be worshiped, to be left untouched.
It’s a fascinating essay, covering the history of how the idea of the ‘lawn’ originated in ~1870 America, which was the exact same time the transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau were pushing forward ‘wilderness’ (national parks came about then).
Pollan then argues that both approaches fall short of being able to solve our environmental problems. While gardens themselves won’t put us in right relationship to nature, the “habits of thought they foster can take us a long way in that direction.”
It forces us to “ask the gardener’s questions”, ”[tutoring] us in nature’s ways”:
Gardening, Wilderness, Lawn as Ways of Relating to Digital Objects
I want to think about Pollan’s three ways of relating, and swap out the focus of ‘nature’ to ‘digital objects’.
Gardening then becomes a way of working with the digital objects we collect, manage, create etc.
(By digital objects I’m meaning something roughly like below. Imported objects are things that can exist outside of the digital environment. Native things are created from, exists on, and only makes sense in the context of the digital environment.)
Let me give some examples.
‘Wilderness’ might be a Twitter search with just the letter ‘a’. This is pristine, untouched, chaotic information stream. There’s definitely better examples to reflect data as unfiltered (since Twitter moderates), and raw data as sacred.
‘Lawn’ might be some corporate website, where every pixel and word is considered and has gone through 10 different teams and months of meetings and reviews.
It could be argued that something like an are.na profile that has all their channels neatly organised is a ‘garden’, although I think it still mostly leans towards wilderness because it’s often just collection without tending.
For me, gardening requires meaningful revisiting and cultivating over time — there’s growth involved.
(I should note that none of these modes are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other! It just depends on what you’re trying to do with the information. I happen to be making a case for the garden mode here.)
The most direct example of a digital garden would be, well, digital gardens! Lead by folks like Andy Matuschak, they’re personal, wiki-like spaces that collect ever growing, in-process notes. They’re like a far less ‘lawned up’ blog — densely tangled, interlinked and alive.
They deserve a separate essay, I love them. The mindset of e.g notes as evergreens has actually prompted me to ask better questions and take better notes.
For now I’ll plug Joel Hook’s essay: 🌱 My blog is a digital garden, not a blog, and Maggie Appleton’s repo which has a wealth of articles, theories, tools, and (!) a directory of gardens: https://github.com/MaggieAppleton/digital-gardeners. Both are great gardeners too!
Before I move on, here’s a graph:
From the great Wild, we collect digital objects. Two examples of modes of collecting might be hoarding or curation. Finally, we then further treat them in a ‘gardening’ or a ‘lawn’ way.
Other Modes of Digital Gardening
With that, I was curious as to what other ways the garden concept might manifest digitally. I’ll look at it through the conceptualisation above: revisiting + growing = gardening.
(I should say that I’m not particularly convinced by the two buckets since they blend into one another and it feels like growing / evolution is more constitutive to gardening than revisiting is, but for the sake of discussion let’s say that they’re helpful)
In ‘revisiting’, we might have spaced repetition or coming across the same ideas repeatedly through research over an extended period of time. Here’s a compelling essay by Michael Nielsen on that: Augmenting Long-term Memory.
‘Growing’ might be accumulation on top of a foundation through developing ideas by e.g writing an essay about it, or through modes of threading (e.g Visakan Veerasamy style) / through the backlinks of Roam.
When we talk about something with others, I think there’s potential for both:
- revisiting: sharing, explaining
- growing: discussion
The question is: how do we incentivise gardening, including for non text-based things? Why would anyone want to revisit the 851st block in their arena channel?
I think an answer might be through one of the ways we show care to our friends through the internet:
Sending memes! Or resources, or songs, or papers.
And so here’s the idea — what if we made a ‘care package’ at the start of every month of the best stories, poems, podcasts that we’ve come across, maybe add a little note to each of them, and then send it off to our friend? And what if they did the same for us?
And on top of that, to link in the ideas of talking about it with others, what if our messaging apps had this integrated so we could start and maintain conversations based on the material that we’ve sent, and be able to link all these different threads together in some way too? It allows us to revisit the material we’ve gotten over the past month, and perhaps even build on the same digital objects over multiple months.
I want to at some point build on top of Max Kriegers ideas on chat, covered in his wonderful comic: Chatting with Glue.
Internet Strolls and Rabbit Holes
Moving on, one central part of the care packages is experiencing something together. I think a related idea here would be that of ‘internet strolls and rabbit holes’:
What if we could create and share journeys we’ve taken across the internet, with the sights we’ve seen and the rocks we’ve collected attached?
(This image is from my exploration on tabs.)
What if there were ‘secrets’ that we could set for others that would open up new pathways (e.g they have to collect the right image or piece of text)?
Maybe we’d be able to add your own objects, and then, of course, link each part into the chat.
So those are the two ideas. Both tap into a care and sharing, and so I wonder not only what other ideas might be created from this basis, but what other ways we might be enticed into gardening?