Subject: The world of the analog Zettelkasten
It has been quite some time since I last wrote to you. Life has taken me through a tough ride these past few months. But I am getting back on my feet, working on some new pieces that I will be sharing with you in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, I wanted to share with you that my conversation with Scott P. Scheper1 is live on his YouTube channel. Unlike other coaching sessions, where he guides people through building a notebox from the beginning, we talked about the nuances of a Zettelkasten—from managing etymologies to handling beautiful prose to creating external references. I hope that you find it helpful.
Before I hit send, though, I want to share with you a few key points (that I will incorporate into an essay at a later date) and announce that I have moved my Zettelkasten offline.
Going Analog – The Antinet Zettelkasten
I only consider it a natural step, which many in the online note-taking world will brand as archaic and backwards, that I decided to take my Zettelkasten offline. Yes, I did. In the world of Obsidian, Roam Research, and others, such decision seems counter-intuitive, but there are many reasons for my embrace of the analog world.
Over the last few months, progress in my Zettelkasten stalled, and it didn’t take me long to realize that the culprit for this was the screen itself and the odd disconnection that it created with my notes. Also, as much as I tried to imitate Luhmann’s system on my computer, using plain text files and an alphanumeric numbering system, I always felt that something was missing from the equation. The missing link, I figured, was the very thing that the new digital note-taking tools are trying to erase: friction. As discussed in my last post, friction is a desirable trait of a successful Zettelkasten, and so, I have concluded, the best way to maximize it is to transition to paper.
The appeal of the physical dimension
Now, more than ever, I believe that paper is the best medium for thinking and producing meaningful ideas. The physical dimension is so much more appealing to me because it is rich in sensory diversity, which encourages interaction with my notes. On my computer, notes are rarely revisited, which makes them archival in nature, and not a means to an end—an ever-evolving collection of thoughts that support end-goals.
Furthermore, I have figured, the less technology I have on my disposal, the more I can think and express my ideas. Going analog liberates me from the inevitable meta-thinking that happens in a digital environment. I am also tired of ruminating on the strengths and weaknesses of new tools and worrying about the privacy of my notes. All these worries hold no weight when you take your notes offline.2
And, as we discussed with Scott during the coaching session, the act of writing by hand slows you down and has a calming effect that cannot be achieved in the digital realm. In the digital, we move too fast. Analog tools slow your mind down—they put a break on the constant rumbling nature of our distracted minds, allowing us to experience the stillness of the moment amidst the sea of information chaos.
Luhmann spoke of a world of order and chaos to describe the state of his notebox. The Antinet Zettelkasten (a term that Scott Scheper coined to refer to his analog implementation of the method) allows us to navigate that chaos and be comfortable with it by structuring our ideas in ways that avoid excessive order, yet providing us with the tools (the index) to locate our interconnected lines of thought.
That’s all for now.
And always remember, there is nothing worse than an idle system, for that would not be a Zettelkasten but an archive.
- I consider Scott to be the foremost authority on the analog Zettelkasten. Watch his videos, read his writing, and get your hands on his upcoming book, if you are serious about embracing the analog world of Luhmann’s Zettelkasten.
- In fact, I propose, a digital Zettelkasten—or any other note-taking solution that is stored on a server—indirectly censors the individual, for as long as there are privacy concerns, one’s thinking and writing adjust to protect oneself from retribution. More on that in an upcoming essay.