Musings | The Philosophy of Tags vs. Folders

Sometimes I get an idea into my head that is just a fun mental exercise and perhaps a pathway forward to new frameworks and understandings, through technology.

Sitting in my Post-Planetary Design class earlier this week, I was clipping websites and articles that were suggested into Evernote and tagging them so I could relate them later. We were talking about boundaries at the time, boundaries and topology, cartography, as seen from different scales, natural versus artificial, human versus geologic.

Sitting there I had an interesting realization/question that can best be framed as has technology caused certain generations or people to use tags versus folders as a mental framework for understanding the world?

See below for the musing, will come back to this later!

Musings on the Philosophy of Tags vs. Folders

The translation of organization from modern folders to post-modern tags is a symptom of a much larger philosophical reorientation we are making as a species.


Folders assume that we can organize and define categories of meaning and being, of Heidegger’s “things”  into fixed static categories, tucking them away into neat realities that can’t shift or transgress the boundaries of the definitions we impose.


Tags break this assumption and recognize a referentiality between things. One article, one idea can have many tags, and so it can connect in an ever shifting and widening web of understanding and meaning.


Is this shift, as enabled by the architecture of network topologies and digital technologies, of NoSQL relational databases and hash tables, a precursor or perhaps an inkling of a concurrent and correlative (or even causative) shift in human philosophy and understanding? We have been told we are living in the Anthropocene, the age where man has finally left his indomitable footprint on this earth and as such can no longer expect to exist apart from it. We are truly experiencing radical relativity on a biological and geological scale never before imagined. Our worldview, our lens, our connection moves the earth from categories of resources to relational webs, networks, ecosystems of referentiality between living and ‘non-living’ agents.

Folders vs. Tags = Modernism vs. Post-Modernism?

I wonder if perhaps the Modern, 20th century, Industrial view of earth is that of folders, of definition, of demarcation of boundaries and borders, tables and indexes, credits and debits, all tidy organized into their respective categories and independent of one another. If you cut down the forest here, it simply takes forest tokens out of the folder and converts them to lumber. But this could never possibly affect the carbon tokens in this folder over here, or the air and sky tokens here. (oops)
This mode of thinking has proved unsustainable. Perhaps its a symptom of the young (my Boomer mother and I certainly disagree), or the always connected digital hybrid native, but my mind no longer works in folders, it works in tags. My organization is no longer cold static files, black boxes of information stored in folders that I must read through one by one and make my own links and references separately. My mind is Evernote, my mind is Tumblr, my mind is Instagram, hashtags and tag tags referencing and re-referencing half-formed thoughts, nuggets of yet unconsumed but at least organized information, ideas and musings and other’s ideas through videos and images and writings and audio all making new connections, accidental and ethereal assemblages that crumble when pinned down, the mental picture of the elusive after burn of a photo onto the retina, the puzzle book where you have to unfocus to see the image pop-out.


Is this tagging, this sorting and connecting, part of a larger human movement that intrinsically is beginning to understand matter and materiality not as stock, as store, as resource, but rather as a series of flows and connections, of cross-referentialites between things geo, bio, homo, andro, gyro, aero and cosmo?
Is tagging the mental framework of a newly self-aware (and terrified) human population just becoming aware of the supportive, beautiful and potentially strangling entanglements of man, animal, earth, and now machine? After all, is the power behind a tagging mentality rooted in the organization of digital data, a new ability to make connections, parse words, search for minute connections, and build the whole thing into an amorphous and asymmetrical map of ideas, critique, thoughts, and dreams? Or is it really a danger, a schizophrenic last-ditch attempt to at least mentally organize our auto-instant-replay-preview overload information stream world in an imagined thought-space topology?
I’m not sure this is quite right yet, but I feel deep down in my bones its a beginning, as I obsessively sit here and tag articles by their class, topic and theme. I wonder at the additional tags I can use to connect them across boundaries of academic domains, industries, sectors, scales as I feel the need to obsessively self-reference. The need to sort information, even if not read, for further sourcing and connections to an un-formed under-(over, across, through)-standing, a new Digi-physical compulsion. The need to build a new framework of un-cartesian boundaries that aren’t fixed in time-space, but rather in thought-space. I close my eyes and I see it, this invisible and indescribable landscape, cloudscape, ideascape of referentiality, stacks teetering on the horizon, and connections burning between them in an endless mental topology where tags glow like ley lines, new and beautiful arrangements I can’t yet articulate emerging and disappearing in the shifting sands of memory, attention, and realizations yet un-had.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.