A few weeks ago I committed to the analog Zettelkasten system. In some circles, this is known as an “Antinet.” I highly recommend reading Scott Scheper’s work on this.
I will give this an honest effort for 90 days just to see if it’s something I want to continue doing. Here are some of the pros and cons that I have experienced so far.
- Quality versus quantity. You must be very selective in what you put on your notecard. With digital notes, the sky is the limit. I wouldn’t be too picky with what I’d put on a digital note because I could type faster than I could write. These limitations help me with writing only the absolute essence of a thought.
- Less screen time. I work on a computer all day. And when I’m not on the computer, I’m looking at my phone. I’m not too sure this is healthy long-term. But I haven’t looked into the research behind this too much. I just know that my eyes have trouble focusing after looking at screens all day.
- I finally understand the Zettelkasten process! Trying to implement Nicolas Luhman’s (the source of all this hype about Zettelkastens) analog system in a digital platform was confusing for me. I didn’t really understand the difference between a “literature note” and a “permanent note.” I do now. Understanding all of this, thanks to the Antinet, makes it easier to transpose this process to the digital format.
- Searching for notes is harder. I’ve accumulated about 100 permanent notes so far. Although my index is pretty thorough, I have a hard time quickly finding notes. When a familiar thought comes to my mind, I know I’ve written a note on it in my system. The issue is finding it quickly. I may just be too new to this process. And who knows, this limitation may be a feature, not a bug.
- Access to your notes is limited. In the digital world, I could access my notes on almost any device. If I was debating someone on a topic with which I’m familiar, I could easily pull up some notes and draft a response. I can’t do that with an analog system. But I do remember information I’ve written down more than the ones I’ve typed.
- Space requirements. I don’t have that many notes yet- about a 100 note cards. But as my permanent notes grow, that would require more desk space. Mortimer Adler’s set of notes would take up a good chunk of an office.
I still have my doubts about this fully analog notes system, but I’m going to continue this process for a few more months. I’ve enjoyed the process so far. But I have yet to test this in an academic setting.