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Wednesday Whimsy

On Categorizations

Greetings. Before the Wednesday whimsey, I wanted to acknowledge the eventful days in our country. In addition to insurrection at the Capitol we have COVID raging, racial injustice persisting, and an economic situation that is widening the gap between those doing well and those doing poorly. My fervent hope is that the country turns from handwringing over its great divides to a way forward to solve problems that face all of us. At heart, our miseries—and their solutions—are a public good. The Country starts with us. May we begin with civility and a respect for our rule of law. And may we reduce our assertions to each other and increase the questions that are essential to discovery.


Few of us can keep many separate elements in mind unless it be a matter of great passion—such as my diverse collection of comic books in my youth. Instead, we rely on categories—groupings with some logic that let us retrieve information and make sense of patterns and connections. I was reminded of how tricky this is a few days ago when my IT guru sat with me to reorganize the icons on my iPhone. My granddaughter had done this for me years ago and I found her organizing principles enduring and yet unclear. I simply cannot readily find the icons in the categories in which they have rested for years. So on to organization!

Some choices were easy, such as Spectrum, HULU, and “Watch ESPN” in the category of “TV.” Others were more complicated. Here are some examples:

  • YouTube. Does it go in TV, entertainment, or instructions? I decided I used it most frequently for amusement, so put it in entertainment.
  • Strava. Should my bicycle computer app go under health, sports, or GPS? I decided on health because I think that should be the primary value for me.
  • Cars.com. I love to see prices and descriptions of older cars for sale. Should I put in hobbies or transportation? I chose transportation sensing I would remember it better given the natural link to cars.

As I think about it, my decision rules are ad hoc. With YouTube the choice was based on primary purpose. With Strava, I shifted to value and selected aspiration rather than function. And with Cars, I let ease of word association override both purpose and value.

Categories are important in they create what linguists call frames—ways not just of organizing but of thinking. But they also in my case expose different criteria for different choices. I hope you have more clarity than I do on the rules used to put your life in order. It does seem important. Then, I remember the philosopher Emerson writing: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” That seems important, too.

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