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What vs Where


Technology is evolving to let humans specify what they want to find instead of where to find it. This shift from "where" to "what" makes finding information faster, easier, and less mentally taxing.

In the past, we relied heavily on folder hierarchies and meticulous organization to locate files and tools. This "where" based system requires you to traverse a tree of folders until you arrive at the item you need. At best, this takes logarithmic time as you split folders into subfolders.

Today, many software tools allow you to search by keyword or function name instead of location. On a Mac, Spotlight search and Alfred allow you to find any file instantly by name. In Visual Studio Code, the command palette lets you execute commands by typing their name rather than navigating menus. On an iPhone, pulling down on the home screen brings up a magnificent resource finding tool. Password managers like 1Password enable finding passwords immediately instead of hunting through notes. Even Google's core web search has shifted focus from browsing pages to getting direct answers.

This transition from "where" to "what" improves productivity in two key ways. First, it makes finding information drastically faster and easier by reducing a lengthy traversal to a simple search. Second, it frees up mental effort previously spent memorizing file locations and hierarchies.

The tradeoff is that you must now name files in a search-friendly way. "SecondDraft(final).docx" won't cut it anymore. Using a format like "Philosophy-101-draft-2.docx" will ensure you can find the file later with search.

By leveraging search and keywords over rigid hierarchies, technology enables humans to focus on what they want rather than where it's located. This revolutionizes how we interact with and manage information.