I sat down to write this post much earlier, and I had to get "An Autobiographical List of Other Folks' Writings on How to Organize Thoughts" out of my head first. Both to clear my own brain out and to (possibly, maybe, hopefully) catch people up to speed on where I'm coming at this from and why I care about it. It's the post I had to write first so this and future posts on thought, knowledge, learning, organization, and digital preservation could be a little more concise.

The tl;dr is that:

  1. When in a firehose of information, every person, website, etc always has to make trade-offs between usefully processing it and trying to simply catch as much as possible.
  2. We are storing information both in our brains and digitally, and about a thousand systems for doing both.
  3. One of the advantages of having a good external storage solution for your thoughts is that it frees you up to think about new things, and also other people can read it.
  4. Some thoughts or pieces of information are meant to be forgotten and that's what summarizing is.
  5. Knowledgework (finding, storing, summarizing, knowing what you need & when you need it) is a collection of skills.
  6. I am increasingly frustrated by the ways that software and websites and AI repeatedly try to remove the skill barrier by proposing relatively inflexible but "easy to use" solutions with skill caps and then overtake the digital ecosystem.
  7. It's easy to let thinking about organization get in the way of actually thinking about the stuff you want to organize, but both are necessary.
  8. I'm also so tired of how hard it is to find resources on personal knowledge organization, especially neuroscience- and pedagogy-informed organization, that are tied to quality of life or quality of work rather than fucking productivity[1].

None of this is really revolutionary. That's why there are so many links in the post. Consider it a poetic bibliography.

Now I want to talk about a much-maligned tool for thinking: jargon.

Sometimes, I kind of love it.


  • Allows us to speak more concisely and quickly, especially when we're dealing with complex or abstract ideas.
  • Generally has a more specific definition than general english counterparts (this is sort of inherent in the obscurity--as more people come to know a word, that is necessarily more individual definitions that exist of exactly what the word means and therefore, usually, more variation in what the word could possibly mean, and more potential misapplication or misunderstanding).
  • Allows for a clear place to start asking for explanations. "What does X mean, I've never heard that before" is a useful signal to the listener that they do not understand, rather than a silent misunderstanding, and a very specific piece of feedback to the person that already has the knowledge.
  • Can signal community membership or expertise
  • By virtue of being New language with high specificity to a specific topic, can also act as a keyword for lookup in all kinds of systems: including human brains, physical libraries, glossaries, search engines, etc. The novelty of jargon and the lack of use in daily general life allow it to be almost as useful as something like a hash for being a "unique ID" of the topic while still carrying some semantic meaning in its structure for human speakers of the language.

I think jargon is only elitist when it exists inside of a culture that thinks not knowing things is a moral or personal failing worthy of shame. It does have innate downsides, though, especially if the person using the jargon is not actually a skilled communicator. There are a lot of programming concepts that it's hard to explain if you're having to start from defining first principals every time, and yet there are so many people in the world who don't know those first principals.

This is also why I think etymology is so interesting--at some point, every idea was new and needed a name. Almost always, excluding some notable times like with "googol" where a nonsense word was arbitrarily chosen, people choose a word that they think will make the concept easier to explain. You can see the incubator it came out of, the more-known part of the world that gave rise to the new idea, in the fingerprints of its word root.

  1. This video I just watched wants to throw a wrench in that binary, though. ↩︎