Externalising knowledge -- some writing by L. M. Sacasas

I thought this chunk of writing by L. M. Sacasas (The Convivial Society) might interest those of you working in and around personal knowledge management systems. It’s a longish read (or listen).

Here’s a bit that caught my eye:

I’d say at this juncture that we are reeling under the burdens of externalized memory. Hugh’s students labored to construct elaborate interior structures to order their memories and enjoy ready access to all the knowledge they accumulated. And these imagined structures were built so as to mirror the order of knowledge. We do not strive to interiorize knowledge. We build external rather than internal archives. And we certainly don’t believe that interiorizing knowledge is a way of fitting the soul to the order of things. In part, because the very idea of an order of things is implausible to those of us whose primary encounter with the world is mediated by massive externalized databases of variously coded information.

And here’s a bit right at the end:

The self is no longer rooted to the experience of the body. It lives in various digitally mediated manifestations and iterations. As such it is variously coded and indexed. We can search not only the text but the archives of the self. And perhaps, like other forms of information that have lost their body, it becomes unmanageable. Or, at least it takes on that aspect, when we understand it through the primary experience of a digitally dispersed self.

I’d also recommend his 41 questions concerning technology

I hope you are all safe and sound wherever you are on this wee planet we inhabit.



Excellent article, @skiptime – the whole post from Sacasas is worth reading carefully. I was happy to see he mentioned Walter Ong. I knew Walter well, and studied under him. A true polymath who was excited to explore any facet of consciousness.

1 Like

Thanks. The article helped me appreciate something. The engineer in me must categorize everything. The explorer in me just wants to wander through. Would that my two selves could find a comfortable middle ground.

It also puts a perspective on why I get frustrated by search tools that have too much overhead relative to what they return.

Finally, interesting to me is that the comments about not appreciating file and folder structures are coming from students in academic settings. I wonder how long it will take for those same students to meld their approach into the “real world”. What will be the outcome when they have to work in offices where critical information to solve problems is still stored in category-based and hardware based (e.g. file cabinets) systems rather than dumped somewhat willy-nilly in clouds.



Good to read your responses @quorm and @DrJJWMac. I was not (and am not) at all familiar with Walter Ong’s work so looking forward to chasing that up. I’m curious @DrJJWMac about the two ‘sides’ you describe. I just finished reading Annie Murphy Paul’s book The Extended Mind (totally recommend it) and one of the things she comes back to a lot is about how the conditions for ‘wandering’ are created by the structures animated beyond our brains: spaces, bodies, and yes, technologies. In the arts I hear a lot what is perhaps a similar juxtaposition of ‘organised’ versus ‘intuitive’; the implication being that intuitive = good and organised = limited. We love our binaries.

Cheers, Simon


Engineers are trained to or learn that they must categorize information up front to be effective in retrieving it. My example to students in my classes is that you will not be effective when you take equations and simply toss them into your basement storage, hoping later that you can grab the correct one quickly by rummaging around in the dark when you need it (e.g. during the pressure when taking an exam).

By comparison, my habits at graduate school and/or my nature in general taught me the benefits of learning how to make free associations with the information that I was collecting. Back in the days before electronic tools such as Obsidian (way, way, back in the days …), my habit in reading journal articles was to discover associations not only between the ideas being presented in the journal article but also between such themes as who was doing what, where; what steps were explained well and what steps were “missing” in the protocols; or what questions were addressed clearly in one case but not another. I learned how to wander through journal articles and store the key information by links, not just by categories.


1 Like