From today’s issue of Casey Newton’s Platformer:
In short: it is probably a mistake, in the end, to ask software to improve our thinking. Even if you can rescue your attention from the acid bath of the internet; even if you can gather the most interesting data and observations into the app of your choosing; even if you revisit that data from time to time — this will not be enough. It might not even be worth trying.
The reason, sadly, is that thinking takes place in your brain. And thinking is an active pursuit — one that often happens when you are spending long stretches of time staring into space, then writing a bit, and then staring into space a bit more. It’s here here that the connections are made and the insights are formed. And it is a process that stubbornly resists automation.
I’ve got a couple use cases for inter-connected notes in my life, but those use cases will not help me think. They are, as Casey writes, about retrieving something in storage.
My canonical example of this is for Bible study. Every time I learn something new about Genesis 1, for example, I can link my note to the book by writing
[[Genesis 1]]. When I revisit Genesis 1, I can quickly see my notes beside it, and see where and when I learned it — key information for long-term study.
That being said, this information is not useful or helpful outside of my study. It is often useless in the realm of work; it would probably be easier for me to retrieve my meeting notes later were they organized hierarchically in directories.
Even in the case of study or research, I question the value of several disparate notes. Take my example again of Genesis 1. Would it not be more helpful to see my thoughts directly attached to the original document itself? (The digital equivalent of writing in the margins of a book.)
Once again from Casey’s story, this time quoting Andy Matuschak:
“The goal is not to take notes — the goal is to think effectively… Better questions are ‘what practices can help me reliably develop insights over time?’ [and] ‘how can I shepherd my attention effectively?’”
In a world of artificially intelligent machines, the only path to success for the modern worker is to develop critical reasoning and think more effectively than our dystopian counterparts. I worry we’re collectively losing our ability to do that.