Although pictures are steadily taking over in most media as the way to convey ideas, it’s still true that most people, most of the time, think in words, not in pictures.
When it comes time to “hold that thought”, we still have decades of habit that takes us immediately to labeling, naming, describing, or somehow using words. Usually, we trust our ability to be “precise” that way.
The interesting thing is that we want to be precise whether that means being precisely general or precisely specific…
Meanwhile, there is another issue: being economical. We have lots of reasons or situations for which we need to pack a lot of meaning into a very few words. When we do that, words become signs, and we don’t want the signs to point us (or anyone else) in the wrong direction.
This is of course where we get our bang-for-the-buck with Categories. They are absolutely everywhere, and it would be ridiculously hard to get along without them.
But interestingly, we are also swimming in an ocean of Tags these days. If categories are so definitive and helpful, why are there so many Tags?
Tagging is about applying reminders of how I want something to be meaningful to myself.
Additionally, everyone may have their own separate meaning that they memorialize with a tag. Unfortunately, the same tag can mean different things to different people. It’s not necessarily clear that someone else will “use” my tag the “right” way. For the most part, unless there are some rules or agreements about how to use particular tags, the tags that make the most sense are going to be the ones I made for Me. In other words, they’re personal.
Categories are different: they are specifically about how somebody else wants something to be meaningful to me.
Additionally, right from the beginning, one category is intended to mean the same thing to everyone. In other words, they’re impersonal.
We can see that these “signs” we create — tags and categories — both serve an important purpose but really should not be confused with each other. We put them on our ideas so that we can navigate to them and through them more easily the next time we try. If we rely on the signs to send us in the right direction, it’s important to understand that categories will send everyone to the same place; but tags will send you to the place that maybe only you were trying to remember.