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  • Writer's pictureClair Whitmer

Help, I'm Intertwingled!

Everything is deeply intertwingled. Ted Nelson

Intertwingled. It’s fun to say, right? Or try it as a noun: intertwinglement or intertwingularity.

But while it is generally used with a wink, it has real meaning and comes from Ted Nelson’s seminal 1974 book, "Computer Lib/Dream Machines". (The title was published in a single book with two covers.)

The original cover of Computer Lib by Ted Nelson
The original cover

To quote the entirety of the passage:

Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged–people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.Everything is deeply intertwingled. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly.

Nelson went on from there to explain the concept of “hypertext” and how it can help us cope with non-sequential knowledge.

But this word and the sense that there is no complete or singular way to organize information has become the motto of many information architects, who seek to create order while acknowledging that every relationship is contextual.

The best tribute I’ve read is Peter Morville’s book Intertwingledwhich builds from the passage above into an insider’s guide on systems thinking.

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