Folders should not exist
We always assumed files and folders as the default information storage. When the first people designing computers created them, they just took what existed in the real world, and transcribed it in the digital one. Labeled things are basically stored in labeled boxes, and you retrieve them by remembering what goes where.
We tend to do that when working with digital things. That’s just what we do. We copy nature. If you look at the history of digital information, we always copied the real world first. That’s our instinct. World’s always been like that, what else could there be?
But at some point, someone comes and just rethinks it. It happened with many things. Look at Google, they’re a search engine. What is a search engine really? It’s an alternative way to find information. At the start they were indexing words and matching them. Now they’re using graph theory and building brains to understand how information is linked together and to understand what you actually want to find. Google is not like any object in the real world. The web in general works like that. It’s a network of things that are linked together. This data structure makes much more sense than folders do.
But somehow, we still work with files and folder all the time. We store our files, we name them, and we retrieve them. Oh yes, we got better at storing them. Now we can put them in Dropbox or Drive or whatever, they’re synced everywhere so we don’t lose them. They’re still just labeled things in labeled boxes though.
And how much time have you wanted to find something, some information, some web page, some image or anything really, but had no idea where it could be? A lot of times.
Our brains aren’t made for that. We don’t think with names and labels, or with file type and last modification date. We think with links. Links can be of any sort. Someone says something, makes you think of something else; a link just got triggered in your brain. It’s not always a conscious process, and sometimes you can’t even explain what the link was, but you know it’s there. Welcome to the brain. Let’s copy that, shall we?
Now here’s the thing, our human brains are limited, and in an age where informations flows at greater rate than could ever have been imagined before we created this little Internet thingy, this limit is becoming a problem. ’Cause you know, evolution didn’t exactly plan for that; Didn’t catch up. That’s a general problem we have these days, we’re outpacing evolution, so we have to augment ourselves because. I ain’t waiting 50 millions years for my brain to get bigger.
What if we just stopped using folders altogether? Let’s be honest, it’s not working. If you’re not actively managing a complicated method for organizing your folders and files and other digital stuff, you will most likely lose them, or it will be a pain to find them back.
What I propose is a personal, augmented brain. Imagine all your information stored as a network of things. everything is related logically, and you can find the things you need by their relations, instead of by their names. You don’t have to remember tons of things, you don’t even have to remember where to find things. Things just come naturally when you expect them, like an Amazon premium delivery.
In a sense it’s a search engine, but just for you. It doesn’t search the web, it searches your life. You’d have your personal information repositoriy: your personal knowledge database, which contains everything specific to you, the sum of your total knowledge, anything you’ve heard or seen or read.
For this to exist, we need to rethink the way computers are organized. We should start creating file systems where people don’t actually have to move files around, they just have to tell the system what they are, so they can be found later. We are getting more sophisticated file search functions on computers, but they’re focused on indexing files and folder, it’s improving on an outdated system that we should start replacing. I’m not saying the filesystem should disappear altogether. It’s useful for technical stuff, configuration files and so on. Just not so much for human interaction.
Does this sound like the scary introduction of a dystopian world? Maybe. But we already did that with the web, and we’re already sending almost everything digital we have in some clouds, one way or another. So if the information is already there, we can put it to good use while we’re at it.
If this was managed by a software/website, it would just be a big box where you can put stuff in. Drop files, links, images, videos, whatever you want. In background, the software does the work to link everything together. It takes multiple parameters into account (reading the files to understand their content, time, location, other things you did this day, etc.), and you can add notes or anything useful. You can then search in this box like you would on the web.
I know it’s not a software you’d write in ten minutes, but we have progressed in AI, and we’re at a point when it’s seriously time to consider this. Understanding speech in videos? Check. Understanding content in images? Check. Searching through tons of text? Check too. With those things, you can treat most of the information we store on computers.
Now imagine you find a cooking recipe with a weird ingredient you might want to try someday because you really liked it. You can’t do that now though, so you just put it in your personal knowledge box. Some time later you’re preparing your shopping for the week. At this point the system finds that you stored this recipe recently and wanted to try it, so now would be a good time to buy the ingredient. Bam, the information comes to you, and you can decide what to do with it. You didn’t have to write a post it, or to put a reminder on your phone or something. It just came to you at the appropriate time, when you asked for it.
That’s the power of an information network, and our current filesystems pale in comparison to what we could do.