Tools for thought as cultural practices, not computational objects
Over the last few years, “Tools for thought” has become a hot concept among software makers. We’ve seeing a surge in note-taking apps and knowledge management tools presenting themselves as TFTs. But there’s a strange paradox here: taken at face value, the phrase “tool for thought” doesn’t have the word ‘software’, ‘computer’ or ‘digital’ anywhere in it. It sounds like an idea that belongs to philosophy and cognitive science department, rather than computing. How and when did it become intertwined with computers? What are we to make of all the software upstarts identifying with this movement? And how can we push beyond them into a new generation of computational tools for thought?
Maggie Appleton is a designer, anthropologist, and mediocre developer. She currently leads design at Ought, an AI research lab exploring how machine learning can support open-ended reasoning. She previously spent years working in developer education, designing visual metaphors for programming concepts. She’s enthusiastic about visual programming, end-user development, and digital gardening.