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Spatial Computing, Infinite Canvas, and new perspectives

Over the past couple of months (years?) I have been overstimulated and generally unable to keep on top of all the information I consume. My zettelkasten practice certainly needs a rethink. I still love Obsidian though, it is by far my most used daily app.

Recently the Metamuse podcast (Ep 81) hosted Stephan Ango, the CEO of Obsidian. It included some conversation on evergreen notes and how Stephan thinks about them. I like his technique about distilling the idea down to a memorable phrase (eg. “cross the chasm” or “everything is a remix”). It is good advice for good zettelkasten hygiene… but what happens when you have so much and so diverse info coming at you at once that you can’t make sense of which way is up, nevermind the time-luxury to distill ideas into pithy quotes?

That is where the other part of the Metamuse interview comes in: last year Obsidian released its new Canvas feature. It was interesting hearing the makers of Muse.app talk to the Obsidian CEO about “spatial computing.”

Obviously, this is not the kind of spatial computing that Apple is trying to introduce with its new AR/VR headset. This is a more traditional form of visual computing that goes back to Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad back in 1963.

2D spatial computing is usually referred to as infinite canvas. The infinite canvas is not really a clear category but more of a characteristic used by all sorts of things like drawing apps, mindmappers, outliners, UML diagrammers, and “thinking” apps like Muse. Recently infinite canvas has been undergoing a bit of a boom, and I think it will only get bigger if Apple’s Vision takes off, taking it into an all new dimension.

In past waves of the trend I have used apps like:

  • Omnigraffle
  • Xmind
  • Sketch
  • Lucidchart
  • draw.io
  • Mindnode
  • Mindmeister
  • Scapple
  • OneNote
  • Goodnotes
  • Notability
  • Miro
  • Whimsical
  • Figma
  • Excalidraw
  • tldraw
  • Muse
  • Zoom whiteboard
  • Apple’s Freeform
  • and most recently the Canvas feature of Obsidian

There are a ton of others on https://infinitecanvas.tools/. Heck, I even built one ten years ago winning Startup Weekend Okanagan! (Look at my pretty pose on the winners stage below)

1st place: Arkitektor
The Arkitektor team at Startup Okanagan, 2013

I keep trying infinite canvas apps, but unfortunately none really stuck. This is surprising considering how much of a huge whiteboarder I am! (I once dubbed myself CWO – Chief Whiteboard Officer – at a previous company!). Generally I prefer the constraints of having to think in linear text. However, recently I have been exploring more of these apps again, and it might be due to me feeling a bit underwater.

YouTuber Nick Milo calls this the “mental squeeze point”:

The Mental Squeeze Point is when your unsorted knowledge becomes so messy it overwhelms and discourages you.

When you are faced with a pile of note fragments, unsure as to what is up or down, Nick recommends you reorient yourself by making a map. Maps are a classic example of rhizomatic thinking: unlike a book or article, maps have no single entry point. It has no beginning or end, but can have structure and reveal patterns.

When you have reached a mental squeeze point, maybe try using an infinite canvas app to give yourself a new perspective – and map yourself out of the forest!

three paper models of the earth folded into different shapes using the AuthaGraph projection

Hajime Narukawa’s award-winning and accurate AuthaGraph map projection.