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36. File cabinets and human minds are information-storage systems. We could model computerized information-storage on the mind instead of the file cabinet if we wanted to.

37. Elements stored in a mind do not have names and are not organized into folders; are retrieved not by name or folder but by contents. (Hear a voice, think of a face: you've retrieved a memory that contains the voice as one component.) You can see everything in your memory from the standpoint of past, present and future. Using a file cabinet, you classify information when you put it in; minds classify information when it is taken out. (Yesterday afternoon at four you stood with Natasha on Fifth Avenue in the rain — as you might recall when you are thinking about "Fifth Avenue," "rain," "Natasha" or many other things. But you attached no such labels to the memory when you acquired it. The classification happened retrospectively.)

38. A "lifestream" organizes information not as a file cabinet does but roughly as a mind does.

39. A lifestream is a sequence of all kinds of documents — all the electronic documents, digital photos, applications, Web bookmarks, rolodex cards, email messages and every other digital information chunk in your life — arranged from oldest to youngest, constantly growing as new documents arrive, easy to browse and search, with a past, present and future, appearing on your screen as a receding parade of index cards. Documents have no names and there are no directories; you retrieve elements by content: "Fifth Avenue" yields a sub-stream of every document that mentions Fifth Avenue.

40. A stream flows because time flows, and the stream is a concrete representation of time. The "now" line divides past from future. If you have a meeting at 10AM tomorow, you put a reminder document in the future of your stream, at 10AM tomorrow. It flows steadily towards now. When now equals 10AM tomorrow, the reminder leaps over the now line and flows into the past. When you look at the future of your stream you see your plans and appointments, flowing steadily out of the future into the present, then the past.

41. You manage a lifestream using two basic controls, put and focus, which correspond roughly to acquiring a new memory and remembering an old one.

42. To send email, you put a document on someone else's stream. To add a note to your calendar, you put a document in the future of your own stream. To continue work on an old document, put a copy at the head of your stream. Sending email, updating the calendar, opening a document are three instances of the same operation (put a document on a stream).

43. A substream (for example the "Fifth Avenue" substream) is like a conventional directory — except that it builds itself, automatically; it traps new documents as they arrive; one document can be in many substreams; and a substream has the same structure as the main stream — a past, present and future; steady flow.

In The Age Of Tangible Time

44. The point of lifestreams isn't to shift from one software structure to another but to shift the whole premise of computerized information: to stop building glorified file cabinets and start building (simplified, abstract) artificial minds; and to store our electronic lives inside.

45. A lifestream can replace the desktop and subsume the functions of the file system, email system and calendar system. You can store a movie, TV station, virtual museum, electronic store, course of instruction at any level, electronic auction or an institution's past, present and future (its archives, its current news and its future plans) in a lifestream. Many websites will be organized as lifestreams.

46. The lifestream (or some other system with the same properties) will become the most important information-organizing structure in computing — because even a rough imitation of the human mind is vastly more powerful than the most sophisticated file cabinet ever conceived.

47. Lifestreams (in preliminary form) are a successful commercial product today, but my predictions have nothing to do with this product. Ultimately the product may succeed or fail. The idea will succeed.

Living Timestreams

48. Lifestreams today are conventional information structures, stored at web sites and tuned-in using browsers. In the future they will be cyberbodies.

49. Today's operating systems connect users to computers. In the future we will deal directly with information, in the form of cyberbodies. Operating systems will connect cyberbodies to computers; will allow cyberbodies to dock on computers. Users won't deal with operating systems any more, and won't care about them. Your computer's operating system will make as much difference to you as the voltage level of a bit in memory.

50. A lifestream is a landscape you can navigate or fly over at any level. Flying towards the start of the stream is "time travel" into the past.

45. You can walk alongside a lifestream (browsing or searching) or you can jump in and be immersed in information.

51. A well-designed store or public building allows you to size up the whole space from outside, or as soon as you walk in — you see immediately how things are laid out and roughly how large and deep the space is. Today's typical web site is a failure because it is opaque. You ought to be able to see immediately (not deduce or calculate) how the site is arranged, how big it is, how deep and how broad. It ought to be transparent. (For an example of a "transparent" web site, Mirror Worlds — figure 7.6.)


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