Saturday, January 8, 2011

@Pla-TREE-a: A Brief Meditation on Trees

In anticipation of Monday's kick-off of "Project VIII: Treeblogging," I thought I would take this opportunity to stir the creative juices by contemplating the tree as a guiding metaphor for human interaction, from the digital to the spiritual.  There is something about a tree's form that offers a primordial organizing principle, whether for files or for the universe.  And somewhere in all those branches and roots is a palpable metaphor for social networks, as well.

Image courtesy
My father, in his retirement, has taken up genealogy as a hobby.  It is a recent passion for him and one sparked, I believe, by constant advertising from  The map he is making of our ancestry, of course, is called a "family tree."  Certainly, those concerned with pedigree have been making these sorts of diagrams for centuries, but what interests me about my father's new-found hobby is the role that social networking plays in filling out the tree. takes this process of family tree mapping on-line, recognizing that family trees intertwine and that sharing information is required to make that family tree bloom.  And so, the company helps my father connect with other users who may share hints for building our family trees and finding these connections. In this case, the connections in the social network are less "immediate friends" and (potentially) more "distant relatives."

Image courtesy of
Determining your ancestry isn't the only place that tree diagrams show up on-line.  I have been fascinated with the proliferation of on-line mind-mapping and brainstorming sites that encourage a structured free-association to creatively process ideas (see the sites on this list, for example).  The predominant image in most of these sites is the tree, a core idea with a series of branching ideas developing out from the center.  These sites (or their software) encourage a kind of visual thinking with (often) the tree as the central metaphor.

Image courtesy of
Similarly, time-management sites and advice for management in general offer "decision tree" graphics that provide organized ways of processing, well, processes to arrive at an optimal outcome.  Modeled off of flow charts and process diagrams, these decision tree maps feature that familiar arborescent metaphor -- the tree with its trunk and branches leading to the most fruitful decision. 

And all of this arboreal imagery can be found much closer to home on your own hard drive where your directories are nested in the organized pattern of a "directory tree."  Consider the C: drive the trunk and branching out from there user files and administrative files and program files and document files and so on.  Some of us are better than others at keeping those directories neatly "pruned," so to speak, and organized like a good topiary.  As the information on our ever-growing hard drives increases, we recognize the benefits of a carefully managed orchard over getting lost in a wild and unruly forest of tangled information.

"The Ash Yggdrasil" by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine
So, yes.  The tree as organizational tool and metaphor has a palpable presence in our digital lives.  But it also resonates in our collective unconscious as a powerful archetype of creation.  The Buddha sits under the Bodhi Tree to achieve supreme enlightenment.  In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the world tree and holds all creation.  In the Kaballah, the Tree of Life is a map for the structure and creation of the universe.  And then of course poor Adam and Eve transgress in eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, defying the ultimate information gatekeeper.  The sacred groves, the Druids' oak, the Yule evergreen, the Lakota Sundance from the sacred Cottonwood, and so forth -- trees proliferate in human metaphysics.

From Monday (1/10) to Friday (1/14), then, we encourage you to join @Platea in both the very mundane and very archetypal practice of growing a conceptual tree together.  In doing so, we embrace the collaborative process of creation, the organic structures of connection and innovation, and the fruits of such individual and collective labor.  Follow this simple protocol to include your blog(s) (or whatever other on-line groves in which you practice your art) in "Project VIII: Treeblogging."

"A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world."  Ralph Waldo Emerson ("History," Essays: First Series, 1841)

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