Tag Archives: Evernote

Tinderbox: Building an ingenuity machine

2476581071_7a55c565ddSeveral weeks ago, Mark Bernstein announced the latest Tinderbox, the “tool for notes.”

I almost always sign up for these updates.

I almost always give the new edition a quick spin.

I almost always find myself thinking, “hmm.”

And that’s as close as I get to Tinderbox until the next edition rolls out.

This post is an attempt to figure out why the idea of Tinderbox continues to thrill me even when the reality never quite delivers. (I say this with all due respect to Mark. The problem, I’m sure, is mine.)

For me, the best description of Tinderbox comes from Naupaka Zimmerman who, when asked on Quora for a ‘simplest explanation,’ said this,

I think Tinderbox is most powerful for mapping ideas out of your mind and into something digital, especially when those ideas are not fully structured yet. If you have ideas and they are already all in order, you could use a simple text editor to make an outline, for example. Tinderbox is where to put thoughts when you don’t know where they go yet, or how they fit together. (my emphasis, full context here.)

This would make Tinderbox very valuable indeed. We live in an era that prizes innovation, that roils with dynamism. As a result, we are surrounded by ideas we struggle to identify and classify. We don’t “know where they go yet.” We can’t say “how they fit together.”

The app that helps us see where things “go” and how they “fit” would be useful. The app that suggest new categories and new combinations would be a very great gift.

Tinderbox does let me “pin” idea fragments. I can move them around. I can tag them. I can group them. I can look for new relationships.

But rarely does Tinderbox help me see the forest in the trees. So far it’s pretty much all just trees.

To put this in anthropological language, I want Tinderbox that gets me out of my categories. Categories are the units into which a culture identifies, distinguishes and organizes the world. They are the infrastructure of thought, if you want. They are the architecture of consciousness.

It is cultural categories that make the world look one way to an Ethiopian and another to a New Yorker. It’s categories that make the world look one way to someone from the upper east side and another to someone from Brooklyn. Think of categories as a grid. Hold up the Ethiopian grid and the world looks one way. Hold up the Brooklyn grid and it looks another. (Caveat lector: not a perfect metaphor.)

Categories are a big part of the box out of which everyone is constantly asking us to get. In this sense, categories are the enemy. They help us think, but they take us captive. To use the fashionable managerial lingo, categories are the reason we have such a hard time finding “blue oceans” and avoiding disruptions. They give sight and they take it away.

In a more perfect world, Tinderbox would enable us to escape our categorical, cultural schemes. It would take all those bits and pieces that we capture every day in the course of our excursions on line, and bring them into a series of relationships we have never seen before. This would really useful. New categories would form. New insights would swarm.

Think of this the way Granovetter thinks about networks. If I can be forgiven a too simple account of his interesting work on “the strength of weak ties,” Granovetter suggests that weak ties matter because they are the bridges across which novel information moves. (Strong ties are less likely to be this conduit because they exist between people who come from the same world and tend to know the same things.)

Granovetter is talking about social networks but his thinking applies, at least metaphorically, to information. Culture creates silos the way networks do. It puts like with like. That’s why we need “weak ties” here too. We need some way of bringing things from disparate categories together. Sometimes, the result will be unthinkable. But sometimes it will force a new category or a new reflection on a old category. This would make Tinderbox an ingenuity machine. As it is, Tinderbox has a way of encouraging my existing categories.

Steve Crandall has great stories about lunch time at Bell Labs. Someone would start talking, and a couple of people would slap their foreheads and run from the room. Ideas were leaping unbidden from one discipline to another. As it turns out, the only thing needed to provoke this “unofficial” transit of ideas was a lunch table.

The question is whether and how Tinderbox could serve as a lunch table. If only it would take the things I post to Ember, Evernote and Instagram and bring them together into novel, provocative, difficult, extra-categorical combination. If only it could promote new categories

As a completely non-rigorous test, I just reached into Ember and found three images sitting side by side. (I didn’t search. I just grabbed.) Images go into Ember in no particular order, so this “grab” is close to a random sort. (The overall category is “images that captured the attention of an anthropologist studying American culture” so it’s quite broad.)

Here’s are the 3 images I came up with.


First, this image from an Android ad. I love this campaign for the little phrase you see here. “Be together, not the same” is one of the best things produced by the advertising, branding world in a long while. (Hat’s off to Robert Wong, the Chief Creative Officer at Google Creative Labs who is the author of this line or at least present at its birth.) It captures where we are now as a social world. It asks for unity without a compromise of diversity.

Then I found this. Sitting, innocently, beside the Android clipping was this photo of a sculpture in Mexico City. It’s Diana, goddess of the hunt.

diana mexico city - Google Search

Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, Mexico City

I was in Mexico a couple of weeks ago and I kept driving past Diana here held high on Reforma boulevard as if by many streams of water. My Diana is the one from Ovid, the goddess who kills Actaeon for discovering her in the wild. He’s a mortal. She’s a goddess. He may not look upon her. (The part Ovid must have liked: Diana transforms Actaeon into a deer. He is hunted and killed by his hounds.) I assume the statue has its own significance for Mexico and Mexicans. I never did figure out what. (Some Mexicans, it turns out, aren’t sure either. The trouble may be that Diana is many creatures with many meanings.)

And then I got this.

About Madewell - Learn More About Madewell - Madewell

I clipped it from the Madewell website as an interesting glimpse of the way one brand seeks to speak to one group of consumers, women with a quite particular sensibility. (An anthropologist is always looking for things that capture a particular way of thinking about, in this case, clothing and gender.) This went first into amber and then into Ember.

So now we have three images. All somehow caught the interest of an anthropologist, but they are otherwise unrelated to one another. Our Tinderbox “sort” invites us to imagine how they could go together.

The most obvious category is feminism. The opening image gives us one statement of our diversity. The second and third give us evocations of things that both express and propel our feminism. Diana is a feminist hero. Madewell clothing is one way our culture now expresses femaleness for some people some of the time. The Android tag line asks us to remain one community even as we continue to refashion gender and multiply our social identities.

This pretend spin of the Tinderbox wheel is, well, kinda interesting. But the outcome, (“feminism,” roughly) succeeds mostly in confirming a cultural category in my head. It doesn’t help me escape it. The trick is to look a little deeper and with this I find myself wondering whether I have quite honored Diana’s contribution.

What else does Diana bring to the Tinderbox sort? We could think of her less as a feminist hero and more as a warning. Actaeon dares do something mortals are forbidden doing. Hmm. Is there some correlate of this in contemporary culture? Who is Diana now and what would she object to? I think for a moment and then wonder if cultural creatives (in the Richard Florida occupational category) dare to engage in behavior that was once forbidden.

Culture creatives spend their lives trying to study, scrutinize, analyze, shape and reshape culture. We dare make and remake culture as if this were absolutely our right. And this is a marker of the world we’ve become, that we see culture as something that designers, anthropologists, writers, showrunners, studio executives, planners, strategists, app makers, software engineers, cultural creatives of every kind are entitled to have at. We even presume to give advice of every kind. (“Be together, not the same.”) We make free with culture and we make culture freely.

And it never occurs to us that this is daring behavior but I think there’s a good chance the practice makes us the odd ones out in the larger human story. I think a Victorian member of the middle class would have been astounded by our presumption. Culture was for admiring. It was for mastering. It wasn’t not for making, not at least by ordinary people. Poets, scholars, artists, yes. The rest of us, no. I think it’s unlikely that Roman centurion stationed in Gaul ended a grueling day building roads by composing fan fic versions of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. We don’t see that we engage in acts of Actaeon-scale presumption, but perhaps we do. And that means punishment, even Diana-scale punishment, for crimes of this order may have seemed not entirely out of the question, at least as a poetic conceit. (I am of course not serious when I propose there is something forbidden about cultural creativity. I embrace the idea because it is in the immortal words of Stanley Tambiah “good to think.” More to the point, it is “fun to think.”)

And this gets us somewhere. My Tinderbox sort has invited me to see something I used to take for granted. It gives me an opportunity to see “cultural creatives” not as unexceptional actors but as a daring, even transgressive ones. (Another clarification is called for here. I’m not talking about feminism as something transgressive. As an anthropologist, feminism is something that has been in the works for several hundred years. I’m surprised it took this long to transform us and I believe there is no likelihood that we will ever repudiate it. Feminism is here to say, and thank heavens.)

But is “transgressive creativity” this anything more than an odd idea? (Is it something more than a fanciful notion to add to that great collection of ideas with which we furnish our interior work shops?) Is there someone who believes that cultural creatives are transgressive? Is there anyone who would, Diana-like, punish them for this behavior?

Not at first glance. But when you think about it, you could say this is almost exactly what fundamentalists think (and threaten). Fundamentalists feel themselves captive of a culture filled with godless, immoral, reckless departures from the work and will of God. And if they thought about it in a detailed way (and for all I know some of them do) they would identify cultural creatives as precisely the people who are responsible for this systematic godlessness.

Hm. So is that it? Well, no. This Tinderboxian revelation leaves me with a problem…and a responsibility, even.

This is the place to ask ourselves whether any of us on the cultural creative side ever think to reach out to fundamentalists and encourage them to see the system, the genius, the good intentions of cultural creativity. I think the inclination of the cultural creative is to scorn fundamentalists as monstrously unsophisticated philistines “who just don’t get it (i.e., me).” But this is really not very empathic, or sophisticated, or cosmopolitan. It fails to see that, whether we like it or not, fundamentalists have a particular case to make. Most obviously, the “scorn” strategy destroys any hope of a rapprochement. If we cultural creatives really were liberal, they might be prepared to grasp the problem and commit to a solution. Scorn seems a little easy, a little glib.

The first order of business? Cultural creatives might want to demonstrate to fundamentalists that being “not the same” is not in fact a real threat to our ability to “be together.”

The second order of business? Cultural creatives might want to see if they can demonstrate to fundamentalists that the fluidity, complexity and multiplicity of our cultural categories is NOT evidence that all hell has broken lose and that we are headed for moral collapse. We need to demonstrate (if we can and I think we can) that the fluidity, complexity and multiplicity of our categories is another way of being a culture. It is another source for order.

One case in point here: gender categories. These categories were once quite clear. Men and women were frequently defined as mutually exclusive categories. In my (boomer) generation, men who displayed any female characteristics lost their claim to their masculinity. Gender (read “category”) conformity was policed with a terrible vigilance. Gender (read “category”) betrayal was punished savagely. Ours was a culture that terrorized people who did not honor their category into which conventional thinking (read “categorization”) had put them.

Gender categories have been rescued from this polarity. It’s no longer male / female. It’s now many kinds of maleness and femaleness, and lots of gender activity is substantially reinventing the possibilities. This transformation of the categories comes from many sources: Stonewall riots, feminism, the movies of Judd Apatow, TVs shows like Orange is the New Black, the LGBT movements. There are many forges for gender now.

To reach out to fundamentalists, this is to say, we will have to tell a historical, literary, anthropological story.

But let’s begin by giving fundamentalists their due. If you don’t have any way of thinking about gender categories except the conventional ones, it does rather look as if all hell has broken lose. We may scorn fundamentalists but from their point of view, chaos is upon us. From their point of view, sounding the alarm is the only sensible thing to do. Let’s be anthropological enough to grant that people are entitled to see the world as they do. And unless someone makes the argument to the contrary, they are entitled to revert to the traditional idea that only way to “be together” is to “be the same.” (And an Android ad is not enough to “bring them around.” Though frankly one of the reason I love this ad so much is that it does help, if only a tiny bit.)

So it’s up to us to make the anti-chaos case: that order can and does emerges from categories that are fluid, multiple and complex, that we can “be together” even when not the same.

Anyhow, whew! I can’t say this is a perfect exercise in ingenuity but my Tinderbox sort did help me think outside the categories that normally govern my thought. And this must be part of the reason why the idea of Tinderbox is so appealing. Imagine a software that helped us capture and combine notes in ways that can sometimes prove to be provocative of new categories.

Dark Value, a new book published today

Ember Library Mediator

Here’s the abstract for my new book:

Innovators like Airbnb, Uber and Netflix are creating dark value. They are creating features and benefits they didn’t  intend and don’t always grasp. And because this value is hard to see, it’s hard to monetize. I believe dark value is a chronic problem in the innovation and sharing economies. To observe one implication of the dark value argument: Airbnb, Uber and Netflix are charging too little.

We will examine dark value created by AirBnb, Uber, Netflix, Evernote, Fitbit, and Facebook. We will show how to make dark value visible in three steps: 1. discover, 2. determine, and 3. declare. Ethnographers, designers, VCs, creatives, planners, PR professionals, marketers, story tellers, curators, programmers, content creators, and social media experts all have a part to play. For all of them, Dark value represents a new professional opportunity and a new revenue stream.

You can buy Dark Value on Amazon here.

Why buy it? If you are a culture creative in design, marketing, planning, ethnography, advertising, curation, this is a treasure map. It will also help you find new revenue streams, as you find dark value for others.  (It now occurs to me that “A Treasure Map” should have been my subtitle.)

What will it cost you? The price is $2.99. It will take you about 30 minutes to read. If you buy a copy, please send me an email and I will put you on a mailing list for updates. I’m thinking about a Keynote deck, and you would get this for free.


My Apple Redemption and new Mac Sensei


I am persuaded that ThinkPad has taken its eye off the ball in the laptop category.  My beloved X301 is not being refreshed or replaced.  Time to move on.
Then Apple come out with the new MacBook Air and the decision was clear. To the right, my new MBA. Cats optional.
I spend some time looking for the right software.  The outcome is noted in Letter 1. But then it was clear that I needed to turn to my Apple Sensei, Craig Swanson, who kindly gave me his advice (Letter 2).
Craig has given me permission to reproduce his letter here.  I pass it along for others undergoing or contemplating a move to Mac.
(Let me say parenthetically that some of the Mac software is breathtaking.  The To-Do list called Things is really dazzling and an illustration of the extent to which the Mac universe escapes the "Let’s jam in another feature" logic that rules the PC world.) 
Letter 1:
I am now the proud owner of one of the new MBAs.  It is a wonderful machine.
Here’s my kit.  Any thoughts would be very much appreciated.
I am using
Zotero out of FireFox for bibliographic matters.  (They are working on a free standing version.)
Chrome for my browser
Things as my to-do list
Tweetdeck for twitter
Snagit for image capture
Apimac Timer for reminders
Microsoft Office (not the newest one)
Personal Brain to keep track of blog topics
MarsEdit for off line blog posting
Globe Trotter Connect for ATT wireless access (when out of the house)
I have a Time Capsule but can’t get it working.
Looking forward to investigating NJ!
Letter 2:
Hey Grant,

Congratulations on a new MBA… I love my MBP with SSD, makes a huge difference in performance and is the wave of the future… so your Air is really going to make you happy.
I’ll give you some comments and alts for your kit… forgive my prolixity, it’s just the only way I know.
Other than MarsEdit (which I use also, on occasion, for blog posts, though not as much now that most of my life is in Posterous and Tumblr), what do you use for writing? I would recommend, at least to check out, the marvelous Scrivener, which just went to version 2.0. It really is a thing of wonder for writing long-form of any kind, and an easy way to take a look at it is through the introductory videos, which you’ll find on this page… fully functional trial for 30 days and not expensive at all… http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
I use both Chrome and Safari… I’m starting to prefer Chrome for the wonderful extension tools it has, but Safari is getting a lot of interesting extensions written these days too, and I love reading in it, as well as saving out from there to Evernote (which is MUCH better than trying to do it from Chrome).
Speaking of Evernote, do you not use it? I really put literally 95% of everything I do into it. I have redundancy in Dropbox (another killer wonder) but of course they’re not the same tools at all. I’m sure you know of Evernote, but if not do check them out.
Things I also use for my todo list, personal. I have OmniFocus, much more powerful, but then how much power does one need? I really prefer Things.
Tweetdeck is a client I’m using too, having finally given up on the wonderful and venerable Tweetie, which is pretty much abandon-ware at this point. I’m trying to find something I really like. Tweetdeck aint it, but it does have some commendable points. I’m also using 2 other clients, each of which has much more clarity, but neither of which is the pot of gold at rainbow’s end: Hibari (http://hibariapp.com/) and Kiwi (http://kiwi-app.net/). They’re not Tweetdeck, functionally, but at least they don’t x-ray my eyeballs.
I don’t know Snagit at all, haven’t even heard of it I’m sorry to say. If it does the job for you, I would keep it. I myself prefer Skitch, which is just a kind of creature unto itself (http://skitch.com/) and Little Snapper (http://www.realmacsoftware.com/littlesnapper/), which is really beautiful software. They both do much of the same in very different ways.
Apimac is a great timer app… I used to run something called On the Job (http://stuntsoftware.com/onthejob/), which I really loved but was too full-featured for me. I recently came across something COMPLETELY different for reminders, though, and I am completely addicted to it. It’s a menubar applet calledAlarms and you really have to see it work to appreciate just how completely awesome it is… watch the video… so easy, so intuitive, so perfect. http://www.alarmsapp.com/Alarms/
I don’t use Office so can’t but commiserate there… I am so happy with Apple MailiCal, and Keynote. Can’t imagine subjecting myself to anything back in that world. And I hear very alternating things about the new Office 2011 suite… some people love it, others (like David Pogue) think it’s a massive step backward.
I too am a Personal Brain addict, as you know… still one of my favorite pieces of software.  Though PB isn’t mind-mapping, I believe you used to run such software on your PC… a great mind-mapping tool, IMO, is MindNode Pro, which I use all the time: http://www.mindnode.com/
Well, that should get you started… I’m sorry to hear about the Time Capsule. Mine died about 6 months ago and I keep meaning to take it in for servicing. I’d be happy to help you get yours set up, if that’s all the problem is… if it’s busted, which they’ve been prone to, it will have to go to Apple for servicing.
Oh wait, just a couple of other things in case I haven’t mentioned to you before that I’m sure you would find useful no matter what kind of work you’re doing:
– 1Password (for keeping track of multiple passwords, and any other kind of personal private info: also ties in to ChromeSafari, etc)http://agilewebsolutions.com/onepassword
– Caffeine: a little, free menu bar applet that keeps your screen on… perfect if you’re doing a presentation and you don’t want your screen saver interrupting!http://lightheadsw.com/caffeine/
– Goalscape: my latest infatuation… it actually is an Adobe Air app, and give how much I detest Air, you can imagine how much I must love this app to include it! (and to have paid for it!)… also works as a web app… it’s for visually mapping goals, projects, etc… you have to see it to believe it:  http://www.goalscape.com/
– LaunchBar: to call it an app/file launcher is only to hint at its power… as easy or full featured as you want to make it, I really can’t use a Macintosh that doesn’t have this installed: http://www.obdev.at/products/launchbar/index.html
– Are you a GMail user? If so, MailPlane is indispensable: http://mailplaneapp.com/
– Notational VelocityScrivener is great for writing, but sometimes you might want something really really notebook-like… this amazing app, once you’ve grokked its concept, is zen-like in its purity… and crazy powerful, but it also has the remarkable facility of auto-syncing with SimpleNote, so you always have your writing on your iPhone and iPad automatically!!! And it’s free!!!! What is wrong with these guys? 😉
– Also for writing: TextExpander is the gold standard on Macintosh for auto-expanding snippets: http://smilesoftware.com/TextExpander/
Well I’ve gone on much too long… I have many more I could talk about, but that’s enough of a soporific for one day I think… hope to see you soon!