How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen 5D?

I spent some quality time playing the dreadfully addictive game “2048”. (No, I won’t link to it.) After beating it a few times, I went looking for higher dimensional versions and found a 2048 3D, 4D, and 5D version. And, after playing and beating 2048 5D I am no longer satisfied with most of the user interfaces that I see.

5 dimensional thinking on a 2x2x2x2x2 board is really not all that hard, once you bend your mind to it. You use the arrow keys to navigate in small steps, AWSD to navigate in larger steps, and QE for the largest steps. Of course the steps aren’t really larger when you consider the full dimensions of the space, but based on how the cells are laid down on a flat screen that’s a reasonable approximation.

After successfully navigating a 5D space, the traditional presentation of a list as a scrolling 1-dimensional space, or even a web browser’s narrow navigational confines, seems impossibly small. I can page up and down in a browser, but what would it mean to page left and right? Or to page in and out, or hither and yon? (Pick some more navigational opposites.) Tabs help a little bit for the left-right navigation, and windows perhaps are the in-out method, but what of hither and yon?

Here’s a small proposal. The browser could keep track not just of the history of which pages you have seen in the past, but also the order that you’ve seen them in. Over time, that flow history turns into a graph of expected page transitions. Your browser could respond to some command that was “show me the next page I’m likely to go to”, and that would be inferred by the history mechanism. The “next” button would always be active.

I suppose this is related to my routine preference for guided randomness in my work. I would rather not try to work my way down a list where I decide explicitly what to do next. Rather, the computer uses some algorithm to select a next thing (a roll of the dice, or some weighted choice) and that’s the next thing to do. With the right sorts of dimensional logic, there could be a couple of different things that would be reasonably “next” and they would be surprising but plausible next things to work through.

What’s kind of sad is that the hyperspace of my idealistic youth – where the network was big, and you used spatial metaphors to zoom down information pathways of your own choosing – has been replaced by the UIs of Facebook, Twitter, or even email where the “read the top, refresh, read the top again” is what you’re guided down. There’s no more chasing down endless hyperlinks – everything you might want is predigested and put in front of you, and if you don’t like it you can just hit refresh like some slot-machine player and hope for better.

So I want some space to work in, not just lists, and not just read from the top. Let me decorate rooms with ideas, and traverse some kind of non-linear structure to get from one idea to the next. Vannevar Bush’s “memex” had trails that led through it, and it didn’t pretend that you could instantly go from one idea to the next without passing through something else. When I think I want to carve out some space for thinking, and have it be something other than the infinite scrolling list.

File under Great Weird Ideas. Previously in Great Weird Ideas, a musing on top of page. A non-linear structure for organizing thought is Jerry’s Brain. Previous musings on a graph-structured rolodex. A 2004 lunch with Peter Morville, described in terms of a memory palace. Network Access to Multimedia Information, RFC 1614, describes the chaotic immediately pre-World Wide Web days of 1994.


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