Matthew Fitzsimmons

Computers Schmuters

I was reading an article by one of my friends about mind mapping, and it prompted me to dig a little deeper into the the phenomenon that some things are more effective and efficient on a computer, and other things are best accomplished through some other means.

For starters, head on over and check out Stephanie's article, Why I Hated Mind-Mapping, And How I Overcame My Bias.

Towards the bottom of her article, she says this:

I know there are many websites and programs designed to facilitate this, but I don’t take my computer to class anymore. For one thing, I find that putting pen on paper goes faster than finding the right button to click to tell the computer what you want it to do (although I do type faster than I write).

I completely understand her frustration with mind-mapping software. I've tried several of these apps, and they just don't facilitate the process very much. They can be quite handy for organizing notes after the fact, but they really don't seem to be very good for getting things out of your mind in an organized format.

Having never even really heard of mind-mapping outside the context of computers, her approach is something that never really occurred to me before. Having dealt first hand with the limitations of mind-mapping software, I can see a huge advantage to performing this process with pen and paper as opposed to a computer. In fact, I never saw the usefulness of it on a computer for anything other than organizing thoughts after the fact—and even that was a little iffy.

However, I also think that outlining software on the computer would have been a computer-based approach that may have worked out quite well for what Stephanie was trying to do. Outlining software (like OmniOutliner) has the advantage of being linear (like standard note-taking), but it adds the distinct advantage of allowing quick and easy rearranging or inserting of new content under a point higher up the outline. Unlike mind-mapping software, the interface for this is extremely intuitive and doesn't require a lot of jumping through hoops. Also, if you want to be able to play with this content in a mind-mapping interface, most mind-mapping software lets you import an outline file for this purpose.

On the flip side, though, I've tried using programs like OmniOutliner to take notes in church. While there are advantages to this (I type faster than I write, for example), the ability to quickly and easily adjust things and rearrange them tends to get in the way more than it tends to help. I find myself trying to hard to get things into a structure, when most sermon notes I take don't really lend themselves well to structure in the first place.

I guess the crux of the matter is this: don't feel the need to use a computer just because you're a computer geek. Computers aren't always the best tool for the job. Everybody's brain works differently, and everybody has their own ways of accomplishing certain tasks. Some of these work better with paper than software, or some work better with one type of software than another. We have so many options these days, we don't need to make ourselves fit in someone else's mold.

February 3, 2009