What are Digital/Mind Gardens?
- 1. 1. 1.
This site is my digital garden, a place on the web where I can consolidate some of my thoughts and writings in a way that can be both shareable, integrated with other information I collect (like a wiki), yet still a work-in-progress.
Most importantly for me, digital gardens are a place where I don’t have to feel anxious about my writing because it’s explicitly meant to be messy.
The idea of a "blog" needs to get over itself. Everybody is treating writing as a "content marketing strategy" and using it to "build a personal brand" which leads to the fundamental flawed idea that everything you post has to be polished to perfection and ready to be consumed.
This idea is toxic and led me to publish less and less over time.
Instead my approach now is to publish my thoughts more freely with less premeditation. Particularly in this space, which is mine, for me, by me.
Blog posts these days are generally expected to be proper essays. Mybecause of the pressure to make it a finished, complete, perfect piece of writing. I don’t want to do that for “fun.” So, my writing post-college, when I learned how much effort goes into a proper Blog Post™ (essay), has shifted my writing to ephmereal FB & twitter comments, which are unlikely to be read after the ~day they were written. And because of the nature of my FB use (lots of health/neurodiversity groups), that really sucks because some days I spend hours answering questions and writing up info.
[Digital gardens are] collections of evolving ideas that aren't strictly organised by their publication date. They're inherently exploratory – notes are linked through contextual associations. They aren't refined or complete - notes are published as half-finished thoughts that will grow and evolve over time.
They're less rigid, less performative, and less perfect than the personal websites we're used to seeing. It harkens back to the early days of the web when people had fewer notions of how websites "should be." It's an ethos that is both classically old and newly imagined.
So, a digital garden is the perfect solution for me, as I can copy (plant!) those comments over here and tend to them (editing, expanding, adding citations, correcting, etc) over time, rather than re-writing the same basic info over and over again without ever growing the idea/knowledge.
In the words of gardening queen Maggie Appleton:
[Digital gardens are] not following the same conventions as what we've come to know as the "personal blog". Rather than presenting a set of polished articles, displayed in reverse chronological order, these sites act more like free form, work-in-progress wikis.
They're collections of evolving ideas that aren't strictly organised by their publication date. They're inherently exploratory – notes are linked through contextual associations. They aren't refined or complete - notes are published as half-finished thoughts that will grow and evolve over time.
So a year ago I would have thrown the link [to an article about gun ownership & mass shootings] to Twitter with a damning summary of the study, and everyone would have known I was a good liberal and retweeted it to prove that they were good liberals and if you listened closely you could hear our collective neurons harden.
But for the past year I’ve been experimenting with another form of social media called federated wiki. And it’s radically changed how I think about online communication and collaboration.
[...] just imagine that instead of blogging and tweeting your experience you wiki’d it. And over time the wiki became a representation of things you knew, connected to other people’s wikis about things they knew.
So when I see an article like this I think — Wow, I don’t have much in my wiki about gun control, this seems like a good start to build it out and I make a page.
Just like plants in the garden I've got posts that are in various stages of growth and nurturing. Some might wither and die, and others (like this one you are reading) will flourish and provide a source of continued for the gardener and folks in community that visit 👋
In French, “cultiver son jardin intérieur” means to tend to your internal garden—to take care of your mind. The garden metaphor is particularly apt: taking care of your mind involves cultivating your curiosity (the seeds), growing your knowledge (the trees), and producing new thoughts (the fruits). On the surface, it’s a repetitive process. You need consistency and patience. But each day tending to your “mind garden” is different: discovering a new learning strategy, having a eureka moment, connecting the dots between two authors, getting involved in a lively conversation with an expert.
Streams, Campfires, and Gardens
These are words used to describe experiences with the internet.
Where I live in Colorado there is a tiny little “river” (a stream, in my midwestern opinion) going through the downtown, with park space runing along the sides. In non-pandemic & non-drought summers the river is often downright crowded with people drifting along in their intertubes. . You can hear snippets of their conversations as they pass by, or you could hold a conversation with anyone if you walked along with them.
Twitter, facebook, and other such social media sites with “feeds” and “timelines” are such streams. You see (hear) snippets of conversation and arguments and belief systems, in real time-ish, as they are said, etc.. but you usually really have to click through and really dig into that person’s page to find more context.
If the Garden is exposition, the stream is conversation and rhetoric, for better and worse.
[...] Whereas the garden is integrative, the Stream is self-assertive. It’s persuasion, it’s argument, it’s advocacy. It’s personal and personalized and immediate.
Caufield's main argument was that we have become swept away by streams – the collapse of information into single-track timelines of events. The conversational feed design of email inboxes, group chats, and InstaTwitBook is fleeting – they're only concerned with self-assertive immediate thoughts that rush by us in a few moments....
This is not inherently bad. Streams have their time and place. Twitter is a force-multiplier for exploratory thoughts and delightful encounters once you fall in with the right crowd and learn to play the game.
But streams only surface the Zetigeisty ideas of the last 24 hours. They are not designed to accumulate knowledge, connect disparate information, or mature over time.
Tom Critchlow added (as far as I can tell it was his idea, anyway) “campfires”
Campfires - mostly blogging for me, though I know some folks gather around private slack groups too. My blog functions as a digital campfire (or a series of campfires) that are slower burn but fade relatively quickly over the timeframe of years. Connection forming, thinking out loud, self referencing and connection forming. This builds muscle, helps me articulate my thinking and is the connective tissue between ideas, people and more. While I’m not a daily blogger I’ve been blogging on and off for 10+ years.
For me personally Facebook posts & replies in groups, discord discussions, and twitter discussions I’m a part of act this way for me. They don’t have the longevity he’s talking about, but they can be and occasionally are sometimes referenced later.
Let’s think of Wikipedia as a garden, with each page a different plant.
Each flower, tree, and vine is seen in relation to the whole by the gardener so that the visitors can have unique yet coherent experiences as they find their own paths through the garden. We create the garden as a sort of experience generator, capable of infinite expression and meaning.
Creating a Digital Garden
Digital Gardening Links
- A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden
- How the Blog Broke the Web - Stacking the Bricks
[The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral Hapgood](https://hapgood.us/2015/10/17/the-garden-and-the-stream-a-technopastoral/)
- Of Digital Streams, Campfires and Gardens
[The Swale: Weaving between Garden and Stream bonkerfield](https://bonkerfield.org/2020/05/swale-garden-stream/)
- GitHub - MaggieAppleton/digital-gardeners: Resources, links, projects, and ideas for gardeners tending their digital notes on the public interwebs
- Digital Garden Terms of Service