Democratizing Text: Multiplicities, Bicycles for the Mind, and Neurological Pluralism

David Sparks commented on my piece on contextual computing with these thoughtful words on democratizing text.

There is a movement afoot to democratize text and hyperlinking on the web, in apps, and across our computers. For the longest time we’ve been spinning our wheels using computer data (particularly words) as digital approximations of the printed words that came before them. That needs to change. Using hyperlinking and contextual computing, we take the written word (and the underlying paradigm about how we work on a computer) from one dimension and convert it to three dimensions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself and I truly believe dynamic, bi-directional linking across files and apps can dramatically improve the way we use our computers and develop our days. It is the way for computers to truly serve the role as “bicycles for the mind“.

Source: The Growing Movement for Hyperlinking and Contextual Computing – MacSparky

I really like the invocation of “bicycles for the mind”. I want a future of text that enables accessibility, positive niche construction, and differentiated instruction in service to neurological pluralism. “Bicycles for the mind” is useful framing to get us there.

ANI launched its online list, ANI-L, in 1994. Like a specialized ecological niche, ANI-L had acted as an incubator for Autistic culture, accelerating its evolution. In 1996, a computer programmer in the Netherlands named Martijn Dekker set up a list called Independent Living on the Autism Spectrum, or InLv. People with dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, and a myriad of other conditions (christened “cousins” in the early days of ANI) were also welcome to join the list. InLv was another nutrient-rich tide pool that accelerated the evolution of autistic culture. The collective ethos of InLv, said writer and list member Harvey Blume in the New York Times in 1997, was “neurological pluralism.” He was the first mainstream journalist to pick up on the significance of online communities for people with neurological differences. “The impact of the Internet on autistics,” Blume predicted, “may one day be compared in magnitude to the spread of sign language among the deaf.”

Source: The neurodiversity movement: Autism is a minority group. NeuroTribes excerpt.

“Writing is the path to power for those born without power.” We’ve seen that in neurodiversity, disability, and other self-advocacy communities. That’s a big reason why “Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.”

Writing is too important because, though forms and structures will differ, writing is the path to power for those born without power. This importance lies not in how to write a “five‐paragraph essay” or a “compare and contrast” book review but in the capability to clearly communicate visions both personal and collaborative. Whether the work is a tweet that generates action when that is needed, or a text message to an employer, or the ability to convince others in the political realm, or the expression of one’s identity in a form that evokes empathy in those without similar experience, “communicating” “well” is a social leveler of supreme importance.

In both cases, methodology become less important than process. Our students read on paper, or through audio books, or through text‐to‐speech, or by watching video, or by seeing theater – or by observing their world. They write with pens, keyboards large and small, touchscreens, or by dictating to their phones or computers, or by recording audio, or by making videos, or by writing plays or creating art, or playing music. We do not limit the work by attacking those with disabilities or even inabilities – or even other preferences, because that robs children of both important influences and of their individual voices. Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.

Thus we begin by moving the teaching of writing from the training of a specific skill set toward an interpersonal art form that flows from students and builds communities. Then, through the reimagining of teaching places into “learning spaces,” we craft “studios” where all the technologies of school – time, space, tools, pedagogies – liberate and inspire rather than deliver and test. Then, using those recrafted technologies, we allow communication learning to flow.

Source: Socol, Ira. Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 3725-3739). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Written communication is the great social equalizer.” Our future of text must respect pluralism and multiplicities. “Digital approximations of the printed words that came before them” often compromise that future. So much of what I see from school is inaccessible in some way. Page-based word processors dominate education while many who write for a living or a hobby are using portable, accessible, and increasingly ubiquitous Markdown, a now 16-year-old technology.

At the 2013 Computers & Writing conference, we (Derek & Tim) started talking about the broad Markdown affinity space: Podcasts, blogs, self-published books, and social media conversations. We were particularly interested in the absence of these conversations within our field. How could a nearly ten-years-old writing technology continue to grow in professional and enthusiast spaces but also be largely absent among those who teach and research writing?

Source: Writing Workflows | Introduction

“Methodology become less important than process.” The answer is not to prescribe Markdown but to support multiplicities, process, and flow. That’s part of the magic of Markdown and plain text and hyperlinks.

I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.

All of this happens in beautiful, wonderful plain text.

Source: Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

What Sparks and many other proponents of distraction-free applications or Markdown syntax are pointing toward is the importance of workflows that “regulate thought and affect and channel attention and action” (Prior & Shipka 2003, 228). They are pointing to workflows that produce (and are produced by) mental states that support writers in whatever activity they seek to accomplish. For these writers, designing a workflow means crafting a digital environment responsive to physical conditions that supports and helps bring about concentration, focus, creativity, and many other states. Any tour through writing advice from the past one hundred years or so will cover some of the same ground: writers who have morning rituals, who use particular (physical) tools, who depend on specific brands of notebooks for incubation and invention. What we want to point to with these case studies is, first, the benefit of attending more carefully to the role of digital tools and environments and, second, the inseparability of these workflows for writing activity. Workflows aren’t activities that simply precede writing, make writing easier, or make it more enjoyable. Workflows may involve those aspects, but we are suggesting something broader and more foundational: workflows, as we define them here, are what writing activity is made of.

Source: Writing Workflows | Chapter 3

My Phone Sling Everyday Carry

My phone sling is my constant companion. The sling itself is a purpose-suited Ethnotek Chaalo Pocket and the contents are my carefully curated coping treasures covering six categories of quotidian need.

  • Cognitive Net and Executive Function
  • Sensory Management
  • PPE
  • Tools
  • Fidgets
  • Wallet

Cognitive Net and Executive Function

The primary purpose of the phone sling is quick draw access to my cognitive net: my phone and my index cards. These are first-order retrievable with one hand at all times.

My phone is an iPhone 12 Pro Max in an Apple MagSafe silicone case. Ulysses, Things, Fantastical, and DEVONthink live on my phone and get me through my days. I couldn’t cope and be productive without them.

MagSafe silicone case in Pink Citrus for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is not pictured because it's taking the picture
MagSafe silicone case in Pink Citrus for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is not pictured because it’s taking the picture

Digital is my productivity home, but I like to supplement digital with a touch of analog in the form of index cards. Each day, I transcribe 10 items or fewer from Things onto an index card. I use a second index card as a scratchpad for stack capture: takeout orders, notes to self, measurements, etc. I arrange the two cards back-to-back via a hacked-together double-sided index cardholder made from two Rite in the Rain index card wallets.

Fabricobbled double-sided index card holder with double-sided marker in pen loop
Fabricobbled double-sided index card holder with double-sided marker in pen loop

My index cards are silky soft 3”x5” Exacompta with a 5×5 mm grid that is perfect for accommodating 10 double-spaced checklist items. Over lots of iteration, I arrived at a very similar style to the Analog system. When it was announced, I tweaked my style to match Analog’s. I’ve been using the Analog method for months now and am ready for when my official Analog set arrives.

After trying many, many, many different styles of pens and inks for EDC, I now default to double-sided markers as my go-to writing instruments. My handwriting feels most comfortable and legible with felt tips. Double-sided markers let me make checklists on my index cards with the extra fine tip and make labels with the fine tip. They’re also cheap and not painful to lose. My current marker of choice is the Zebra Mackee Care Refillable Double-Sided Marker – Extra Fine / Fine in Black. I also like:

These are label markers with bold, consistent lines that work well on index cards and gaffer tape. I like ‘em.

Index cards allow me to avoid the distractions of the phone. I can get on task with the to-do list or capture stack with the scratchpad without getting waylaid by the infinite offerings of the phone.

The phone is one-hand retrievable from a dedicated phone pocket in the interior of the sling. The index cardholder is one-hand retrievable from a slip pocket on the back of the sling. The pockets on this sling happen to fit my digital + analog cognitive net quite nicely.

Sensory Management

AirPods Pro and a Vibes earplugs case with purple foam earplugs
AirPods Pro and a Vibes earplugs case with purple foam earplugs

I don’t go anywhere without noise-cancelling headphones and ear plugs. They are essential sensory management for this hyper-sensory autistic.

Autistic Odes to Noise-cancelling Headphones – Ryan Boren

The sling has a slip pocket on the interior organizer that fits an AirPods Pro case along with a Vibes earplugs case. AirPods Pro provide portable noise-cancellation and Siri access to my cognitive net. The Vibes case holds both Vibes ear plugs and also a pair of Mack’s Slim Fit Soft Foam Earplugs.

I feel exposed and vulnerable without my sensory management. The sling keeps them always at hand.

PPE

Black Tom Bihn mask on a rock
Black Tom Bihn mask on a rock

I welcome normalized masking and always have at least one with me. My favorites so far are from Tom Bihn and Ugmonk.

The front zippered pocket of the sling contains the mask and only the mask. The interior fabric is wipeable, and I hit it with an alcohol prep pad periodically.

Tools

I’ve tried all kinds of combinations of knives and multitools and flashlights and keychain tools to cover my daily needs. I’ve found a minimum effective dose with maximum daily application to be a trio of: bottle opener + slide razor + keychain flashlight.

My current implementation of this trio:

Flashlight, bottle opener, and touch-knife attached to a magnetic quick release
Flashlight, bottle opener, and touch-knife attached to a magnetic quick release

I use all of these daily. They are cheap, lightweight, and effective. I attach them to the sling’s key lanyard via an Urban Carvers magnetic quick release.

I also keep a double-sided hank for cleaning eyeglasses and camera lenses in the main compartment and an Olfa Graphics Knife for more refined cutting tasks in a pen slot. A Tile tracker tucks into the bottom of an organizer slot. I put trackers on everything.

An Olfa graphics knife and a Tile tracker rest on a Mighty Hanks hank
An Olfa graphics knife and a Tile tracker rest on a Mighty Hanks hank

Fidgets

A Gambit token and a CIVIVI spinner pen rest on a hank
A Gambit token and a CIVIVI spinner pen rest on a hank

The aforementioned magnetic quick release and Olfa graphics knife are good tactile and auditory stims. I also carry two things specifically as fidgets:

The pen is primarily a fidget but is also useful when I need a pen for paper incompatible with my double-sided marker. It lives in a pen slot on the interior organizer.

There are several ways to fidget with the Gambit token. I enjoy it. It rests somewhat inconveniently at the bottom of the main compartment, but diving for it feels like discovering a doubloon. Even so, I’d love a shallow coin pocket near the top of the main compartment.

Wallet

I rarely go out, and when I do it’s pre-paid curbside pickups. On those rare occasions I have to pay in person, I usually use Apple Pay via my watch. I don’t have a daily need for a wallet, so I keep it light and multi-functional with a Moft MagSafe wallet. It’s a phone stand that also compactly holds my ID and a couple of cards.

A Moft wallet and a hank pose on a rock
A Moft wallet and a hank pose on a rock

I like combining wallet and phone for cognitive simplicity. I never lose my phone, and the wallet goes along for the ride. But, magnetic charging compatibility means having a detachable phone wallet to keep up with. When the Moft is not attached to the phone, it is in the main pocket of the sling along with the fidget token and hank. It’s always either on the phone or in the sling. So must it be for my sanity.

That’s it. I also have belly bag, tablet sling, laptop messenger, and spinner suitcase load-outs that I might do blog posts for now that I’m retired. I love bags and curating collections within their confines.

What bag gets you through your day?