Continuing our project of throwing provocative conversational strands against the wall—the conceptual drift thesis trotted out and put through its paces in earlier posts—let’s see what sticks. And when I say "sticky" I mean it in a deeply 2.0 sense. . .

PROVOCATIVE BIT: This useful meditation from elearnspace on the differences between organization and structure:

Structure is quite different from organization. Structure is imposition. Organization is reflection of existing elements. Structure forces entities into pre-formed containers. Organization permits form to emerge. Consider how library books are managed in contrast with tags. Books have a place on a shelf before they are written. The Dewey Decimal System determines where the book will be placed once it is published. That’s structure. Organization, however, happens when the participants in the space (and individuals in particular) are able to arrange what exists based on personal interest.

We could (and probably should) take this in the spirit of a critical commentary on NCLB (the post IS titled "Why Command and Control is So Bad," after all), but it’s the contrast between structure and organization that gets my attention here. He’s really talking about the differences between the controlled vocabulary of taxonomy and the user-driven semantic tagging of folksonomy. And here’s where I want to make the speculative leap that I think these semantic schemes represent two inherently different ways of organizing our understanding of the world, of thinking, and of living. If you move through the world as a tagger, you’re assigning meaning in context, leaving behind a trail of semantic breadcrumbs to guide you back in case you want to return, and linking your trail of thought to others’ trails. It’s like being a backcountry hiker, following the light-impact credo: take only pictures and leave only footprints. This generation is accustomed to building imposing taxonomies and depending on the comfort and security provided by such solid architecture. The next generation of students is much more agile, used to traveling light and moving fast through the information backcountry.

PROVOCATIVE BIT: The New York Times Magazine published a December 2006 article celebrating clutter and embracing its creative possibilities as an alternative, folksonomic organizational strategy.

Mess is robust and adaptable, like Mr. Schwarzenegger’s open calendar, as opposed to brittle, like a parent’s rigid schedule that doesn’t allow for a small child’s wool-gathering or balkiness. Mess is complete, in that it embraces all sorts of random elements. Mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat — well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate). Mess is also natural, as Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson point out, and a real time-saver. “It takes extra effort to neaten up a system,” they write. “Things don’t generally neaten themselves.”

In the semiotics of mess, desks may be the richest texts. Messy-desk research borrows from cognitive ergonomics, a field of study dealing with how a work environment supports productivity. Consider that desks, our work landscapes, are stand-ins for our brains, and so the piles we array on them are “cognitive artifacts,” or data cues, of our thoughts as we work.

Clutterers of the world, unite! If only we can find the flag, we’d rally behind it. I know I put it here somewhere. . .

Along the same organizational lines, check out Google’s explanation of what’s new and different about Gmail:

You can keep all your important messages, files and pictures forever, use search to quickly and easily find anything you’re looking for, and make sense of it all with a new way of viewing messages as part of conversations.

Keep your messages forever! As a champion clutterer, that’s a movement and message I can really get behind, but it’s anathema to most network admins. In its cheery way, Google is really sounding a clarion call to arms. Or maybe just sending a memo to let everyone know that the structure of our world has just changed forever. Did you get the memo?

It’s been fun, but it’s clearly time to wrap up this whole overheated conceit. For today, anyway. Final parting provocation:

What if we apply this whole organization vs. structure, folksonomy vs. taxomony trope to schools, students, and teachers? The tag may be emblematic of the next generation of students and knowledge workers: functioning freely outside traditional hierarchies, idiosyncratic, constructing meaning in intensely contextual ways, moving across disciplines.

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