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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
Biz Stone, cited by Kate Murphy in Catching Up With Biz Stone via NYTimes.com
A book that I like to reread every once in a while is “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, & Philosophers,” by Leonard Koren. Wabi-Sabi is a concept and an art form. It’s about the beauty of the natural degradation of things like the rust on a can. Something that I’ve always wanted to do is work the idea of natural degradation into software, like an app you use a lot would become worn-looking. It would be a visual thing because I think having an app that would break down over time wouldn’t be cool.
It would be relatively easy for an OS — like Mac OS or iOS — to render the icons for apps as slowly eroding as a result of the level of our usage, or the background slowly losing its smooth uniformity, like chipped paint:
I am not a Getting Things Done fanatic by any stretch of the imagination.
According to the authors of the fabulous book, A Perfect Mess, I am what is known as a “scruffy” (see In Praise Of (A Little) Mess: Be (A Little) Scruffy):
Scruffies don’t organize everything: they are “data-driven”, using their environment to channel their work, like the piles of things I leave on my desk to which I will eventually turn my attention, or the electronic stickies in which I clip things. “Neats”, on the other hand, use a small number of “explicit coordinating structures” — organizers, to-do lists, and in-boxes — to determine what to do next.
As just one example of being a scruffy, I often start blog posts with a link and one line of comment, and then save it as a draft. I will see those drafts sitting in the list of posts as I edit others, and sometimes my interest is reengaged and I open the draft and write the post. But just as often, I let those drafts slowly sink down, as other posts are created and published, and once they fall off the first page, they are more or less lost forever.
This is one example of a general meta lifehack that I have adopted: I naturally gravitate to tools where bits of possible work — like turning a draft blog post into a published piece, or reading posts delivered by RSS — naturally erode after being around and underfoot for a while.
Perhaps the best example of this meta hack in specific is the Snackr RSS reader I use. Adding feeds to the app is more or less the same as other RSS readers (although it also synchronizes with Google Reader, too). The real difference is the ‘ticker tape’ display, where stories drift by, and I can decide to read them or not. If I do, they are marked read, and drop from sight, and are replaced with others. If I don’t read them after a few days, they go away.
Snackr RSS Reader
Note that in both these cases, I don’t do any filing. No janitorial work. It’s biological, almost.
This is a factor in all streaming applications, and one of the many reasons I think Twitter is such a killer, although I am not singling out Twitter as a hack, but just an instance of the metahack of streams. Perhaps a second great example is the ‘behind the scenes’ stream of Tumblr, where I have access to all the Tumblr posts of those that I am following in that service, presented in a Twitter or Snackr type stream.
I am certain that a streaming-based alternative to coordination in defined groups — what we mostly do in email or tools like Basecamp — will come along and up-end email. Perhaps Google Wave.
It might be that streams and the natural degrading of items in streams are related to my older practices around paper, where I would pile papers, magazines, and correspondence in 8.5 X 11 Bigso boxes. I would start with an empty box at the start of a week, and put everything into it in the order it arrived, noting on a post-it any deadline associated with it.
Being a scruffy, I would move through this week’s or last week’s box a few times a day, and periodically I would stumble across something worth doing, or a pending deadline, and I would pull the item out and fool with it. At the end of the week, I would move the label on the front of this week’s box onto an empty one, the ‘last week’s’ box label onto this week’s box, and then I would move the items from last week’s box into the garbage, into files (like correspondence and contracts), or shelves (for periodicals, back when I read those). Anything that needed to be done in that pile would be put at the top of the new this week’s box.
This favored my scruffy side, and also decreased time looking for files, since things that have been recently received are usually something you need to pull out many times in the following few weeks.
Nowadays I have a similar model with email correspondence, except instead of physical boxes I use the Gmail task add-on, and I set dates for when action needs to be taken. This is also the only place where I use to-dos, which I approach in the same scruffy approach. I wish that Google had a mode where tasks erode over time, like everything I use does.