Wordle and Distributed Cognition
How that shared thread with your friends and/or family is a thought-loop
At some point in January or February of 2022 I asked a Twitter friend what all those squares meant on my feed—the yellow ones, the grey ones, the green ones. And what about those numbers? After a bit of first-thought reluctance (I think my spouse and I are married because we’re both skeptical of fads), I took the plunge and started playing Wordle. It wasn’t long before it became a really exciting experience that piqued interests in word-game strategy, foundational literacy skills secreted away in games, and statistics/probability maneuvering. Of course, having a variety of friends with amazing expertise—some literature specialist book-club, some game-theorizing mathematicians, and some playful creative risk-takers—also brought the Wordle experience to another level.
Nowadays I’m in two different Wordle threads—look, I know some people are in those crazy leagues, who probably have a point system encoded in a weird Telegram thread somewhere, but that’s not me. One of the threads is populated with lots of the #CanonChat regulars on Twitter, and the other is across my siblings and our extended family. While at first there was some trepidation (at least for me) about sharing results, hints, or guesses, I was pretty open to the idea—even if the Wordle creator says that even the auto-generated share out is a sort of ‘hint.’ It’s turned out that these daily shares—at least for me—really enhance my Wordle experience, and really make me a better Wordle player (or at least I feel like it!).
How’s that work? So, I won’t pretend to be an absolute expert here (cue someone like Oliver Caviglioli), but I’m wondering if this experience has something to say about Distributed Cognition. Lehtinen et al. defined distributed cognition as:
a process in which cognitive resources are shared socially in order to extend individual cognitive resources or to accomplish something that an individual agent could not achieve alone.
As a self-proclaimed pseudo-dialogue and discourse guy, I see this collaboration across those two groups as a rich example of shared thinking, and cognitive feedback loops. I recall now some of the explications in Oliver Caviglioli and David Goodwin’s excellent book Organize Ideas. They describe some cognitive loops that are part of our everyday thinking, and are especially useful for teachers and educators to understand. For example, the diagram Oliver shared below gives you a sense of one of these loops—the individual is interacting with information, memory—stuff—outside of themselves, and a loop is set up between the external field and the internal working memory.
My theory here is that a similar thing is happening with our Wordle groups. Every day when I get a glimpse into the thought of my friends and family through their reveal of their work on the puzzle, this is feeding into my own cognition, my own working memory and otherwise, and informing my next play for the next go round. This can take many different iterations—maybe it’s the utility of double-letter words demonstrated by a friend’s gambit (OK—I’m talking about myself here); maybe it’s go-to words in challenging situations to cover a lot of common consonants and/or vowels; maybe it’s the hard-mode release valve when you’re in one of those “OK, there’s like eight potential words here and I have to guess” situations. With each of these examples, this external thought, demonstrated through sharing in collaborative discourse and dialogue, that loops through an individual’s thinking, and refines the group’s ability to deal with the next challenge or obstacle.
Maybe I’m just a bit mad (Don Quixote anyone?), yet it seems clear to me that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts through these Wordle collaborations. I invite you to think about the distributed cognition and shared thought you encounter every day—formally and informally—in meetings and in dialogue with your children, friends, family, etc. Is there really a difference between thought and speech? How much do our dialogue and discourse affect our thinking? How might we leverage that for learning, growth, compassion, reconciliation, etc.? Stay tuned for more random thoughts on such topics here.