The long game of notes

You can do a lot of fancy stuff with your notes these days. Backlinks, graphs, embedding, “transclusion”, knowledge databases, and digital gardens are all tempting sirens. But building up a collection of ideas over time and ease of search is the most important thing.

Matt Webb, Memexes, mountain lakes, and the serendipity of old ideas:

I’ve noticed that smart people keep notes, and in particular use their notes in a certain way, and it made me think of something I read recently about viruses.

And it’s interesting, right, this accretive note-taking and the process of taking core samples through the deep time of your own ideas. I’ve built something similar, not as consistently, but for about two decades too, and I keep all my notes in plain text, and all in the same searchable database. I develop nascent ideas in part by typing in keywords, spelunking my own memex for things I’ve previously spotted, connections I’ve made, turns of phrase… most of which I had forgotten, but there they are. And old ideas come back and get recombined and become fresh again. That database of notes is my greatest asset. It’s how I write here, and it’s also how I pretend to be clever when I’m working.

The endgame of having extensive notes accumulated over a long period of time is not to put them in a grand, unified theory. The point is to play the long-game to think in them, search them for new insights, and to develop ideas over weeks and months. An antidote to thinking in Slack messages and tweet-storm hot-takes.

Adam Keys @therealadam