What’s the best “tool for thought”?
I write a lot about cognition and technology, so I think about this a ton. I’ve always loved Howard Rheingold’s coinage of “tools for thought” — pieces of tech that help us organize our mental work, find and sort information, and make sense of the world.
So: What is the best tool we have, right now, for thought?
Is it the Internet? The smartphone? The word processor, or the digital camera? The relational database, or Google, or … I dunno, GPT-3 or something?
Nope. For my money, it’s much simpler:
It’s the Post-It Note.
For decades I’ve admired this humble little scrap of paper and glue. Nearly everyone in the modern industrialized world has seen them, and probably uses them. You see them stuck on the edge of laptop screens, festooned across instrument panels in factories, peeking out from the pages of books, and sometimes just full-on wallpapering an entire office of some poor sod who’s been working on a Jarndyce-vs.-Jarndyce-level problem.
Wherever you find a Post-it note, you find someone managing information; and wherever you find someone managing information, you find someone trying to think.
That’s why Post-It notes are so interesting to ponder. There’s a lot to be learned from studying why they’re so good at helping us out.
Indeed, there are probably some great design principles we could take from Post-It Notes and bring into the digital world. If you’re crafting a piece of software to help people think, the astonishing utility of Post-It Notes is a cool benchmark.
So forthwith (and with apologies to Wallace Stevens), here are “13 Ways of Looking at Post It Notes” ….