awarm.spacenewsletter | fast | slow

A magical spell

Hi y'all. This is a (late) issue of Warm Regards, a short newsletter where I talk about technology and learning and probably digital notetaking systems.

Speaking of this week I was reorganizing a bit of my digital life. I took the notes off of my website1, and dug through some of my old notes I had in org files, scattered around my computer.

This is a deeply unpleasant task. One of the reasons I'm working on fancynote is that I just feel like I'm constantly compromising in one form or another with my notes. Any thing I could go all in on (org-mode, markdown notes, tiddlywiki) comes with it's own complexity and baggage. Of course making my own notetaking software is probably going to result in a system just as complex, but at least I'll understand why it got that way.

My secret weapon here is thinking of notes as programs, and note-taking as programming. As a field programming is almost entirely about managing complexity, and there are a lot of ideas and tools it's developed for dealing with it, from static types to dependency management, that can be applied to notes.

Anyways one of the things I came across in my archives is this incredible blog post: Bringing magic back to technology from Viznut. It starts off talking about bytebeats, incredibly concise musical programs, and then uses them as an example of magical technology. Not magic as in esoteric or hard to understand, but magic as in deeply meaningful.

The magic we need more in today's technological world is of the latter kind. We should strive to increase deepness rather than outward complexity, human virtuosity rather than consumerism, flexibility rather than effortlessness. The mysteries should invite attempts at understanding and exploitation rather than blind reliance or worship; this is also the key difference between esoterica and superstition.

This conception of magic is so much richer than all that "we want to create a magical user experience" bullshit so readily availble with most consumer startups today.

Taking it further:

One definition of magic, compatible with that in the Jargon File, is that it breaks people's preconceptions of what is possible.

This is so cool. This is magic as a learning experience, recasting your ideas and models of the world.

Seriously. Just listen to these bytebeats:

They're musical spells. You can't help but see them and wonder how?!. I'm fascinated by these kinds of invocations as teaching and learning tools. Are there spells in any field that can have this effect on people outside of it? If you can think of any examples in whatever field you work in, I'd love to hear about it.

What's the most magical piece of technology you've used? Something that recast the way you view the world, or taught you something, or changed how you behave. It's an incredibly high bar to strive for, but that's the kind of technology I want to make. I want to enable magical learning.

I've been listening to: Become a Mountain by Dan Deacon

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  1. I'm still figuring out exactly the best public/private set up for notetaking. Having all my notes just public on my website made me think about them more preciously than they needed. Ultimately I think it's something that needs fairly granular permissioning, allowing me to specify exactly who to share what kinds of writing with.