Controversial thoughts on networked note-taking

Like Casey Newton, I’ve found networked note-taking to be a practice that mostly overpromises and under-delivers.

As someone infatuated with the idea of tools for thought, I’ve tried a multitude of different note-taking applications, both of the networked and non-networked variety. Everything from Roam to Workflowy to Obsidian to Bear to Apple Notes to vim and vimwiki to Simplenote to Evernote and so on and so forth. Presently, I use Obsidian, but I don’t really need it.

Despite best intentions to create a Zettelkasten for myself over the years, I’ve repeatedly found the marginal increase in value—or insights-delivered-to-hours-spent ratio—not nearly worth the effort. My hunch is that digital Luhmann-ism really only provides dividends for a small population of academics and writers of non-fiction who need to cite references or make connections across disparate texts.

For the rest of us, just writing down notes is all that really matters. Any tool that allows you to compose and save text will do. It is the act of writing, not the act of linking or reading or revisiting, that clarifies thought and leads to insight. The rest is all superfluous.