2024ii25, Sunday: Mapped out

2024ii25, Sunday: Mapped out
Photo by Steve Johnson / Unsplash

We're tool users, us humans.

Often we don't think about the tools we use. They're just there. Extending our limbs, our brains, our capabilities. Our ability to do this is pretty much a definition of who and what we are.

But anyone who does something professionally - and by this I've never meant "having a job where you can earn loads of cash and feel important"; rather it's all down to whether you approach what you do consciously, reflectively, trying to do it as well as you can, whether it's a job, a pastime or anything - has a different relationship with their tools.

Because you can't take care of, or take pride in, what you're up to, or reflect and learn and grow in it, unless the tools you're using become a part not only of what you do - but in some fundamental sense of who you are.

Musicians. Craftspeople. So many more. People for whom there's an emotional connection with the objects which make it possible for them to strive to do the best they can.

And when a tool breaks, something dies.

Sometimes, this is because the toolmaker has put their own heart into this thing you're lucky enough to use.

Not always, of course. Nothing wrong with a mass-produced tool, so long as it works for you; nestles in your hand (whether literally or metaphorically) as though it was always meant to be there.

But something that you know has been designed and shaped by humans not to fit a niche in a marketing grid, but because they just couldn't do otherwise than to make it - or because having made it once they couldn't bear to allow it to be anything other than as good as it could be - well. That's beauty, right there.

There's love in a tool like that. Love that the user can feel. And that love begets a relationship not only between user and tool but between user and toolmaker - even if they never know who one another are.

As long as the tool lasts. And when it doesn't, what can you do but mourn not only the made thing, but its maker?

The best software is like that.

Not the huge commercial packages. They're great. Often wonderful. But they're not personal.

Instead, there's the little niche developers, who've usually scratched an itch they had themselves and made something that others will come to adore. They're special.

(This is one of the things that's always wedded me to the Mac platform. Loads of apps from indie developers which don't just do a job - but do it well, and do it beautifully. That have been not only built, but crafted. Sculpted, even.)

But software development is a lonely business. And the economics often suck.

And so apps wither. And sometimes they die.

This maudlin reflection comes because an app I've known, and loved, and leaned on, for a decade or more is on the way out.

I came across mind mapping in about 2013. I was never any good at doing it on paper. But then I came across an app which was then called iThoughts. It ran on my iPad, and it was magical. Suddenly mind-mapping made sense to me.

Over the years iThoughts (now iThoughtsX) has evolved. Its developer, Craig Scott, has kept it going. It got me through law school and bar school. I've used it throughout my time as a barrister as a way of seeing wood and trees at the same time - always a challenge in complex litigation. Not perhaps as much as I used to - but it's still been there, in my toolbox, and it's comforting to know that it's ready for use.

Till now. Late last month Craig announced that his business, Toketaware, is ceasing trading. No more development for iThoughtsX. No bug fixes. It'll work until it doesn't; until something in Mac OS, or iPadOS, changes so fundamentally that the app just breaks.

I don't know what Craig's reasons are. Maybe he's got other work that just takes too much time. Maybe there are family reasons. Maybe the numbers just really don't stack up. Maybe he's just had enough.

Whatever his reasons, I hope he's ok. Because he's given me huge help, for so many years, through this wonderful app.

There are other mind-mapping apps. I've used Mindnode often enough. It's very good. I'll probably switch to it in time.

It's a fine tool. But it isn't my tool. Maybe it will be one day. But not now.

Mine isn't gone yet. But it will be soon. And I can't help but mourn. Just a bit.