There are no little boxes: Everything is deeply intertwingled

October 23, 2007 ⋅ 2 Comments »

The post yesterday on Information R/evolution reminded me of a concept that I ran across not too long ago. Ted Nelson, who coined the word hypertext (among other things), introduced the concept of intertwingularity in his 1974 book “Computer Lib/Machine Dreams”:

EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly.

Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged — people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.

In the comments on my post yesterday, Chris said:

I know we’re not stuck in categories anymore.

But, tags have never struck me as the ‘answer’. I know they’re doing good things. I know they allow interesting ways to view information. But, I’m not sure that tagging information is making it easier for me to get my hands on.

Maybe I just don’t grok it. Maybe because I can’t see the light, I don’t really put enough effort into tagging my own information properly.

Chris is right: tags aren’t “the answer.” Tags are just another way of dividing the world up into neat little boxes. But I think the main point of the video, and the thesis of Everything is Miscellaneous is that there are no little boxes. Everything is deeply intertwingled.

On a side note: Ted Nelson is one interesting character. He strikes me as being a bit like Richard Stallman: a visionary, and someone who deserves respect for sticking to his ideals, but a bit of a nutbar. There’s an interesting article in the Wired archives about Nelson and his yet-to-be-realized Xanadu hypertext system.

I also noted from the Wikipedia article that Nelson coined the term teledildonics. I laughed out loud when I read the next sentence: “The main thrust of his work…”


  1. colin - October 24, 2007:



  2. Anand - October 25, 2007:

    Xanadu sounds like something from scientology