The Most Important Thing People Skip When Building a Zettelkasten... and The One Thing I Regret
Scott P. Scheper
Downtown San Diego, CA
You——but only if this page I wrote about You is true.
Today, I'm going to write about two things:
The first centers around the most important step that people skip when they set out to try building an antinet (aka, Zettelkasten).
The second thing I would like to tell you about concerns my biggest regret I had when I first initially started my analog notecard system 15 years ago.
The Most Important Step That People Skip When They Set Out to Try Building an Antinet (Aka, Zettelkasten)
The most important step that most authors and proponents and educators of notetaking apps seem to overlook centers on skipping the most important piece of the antinet (aka, the Zettelkasten). It happens before you even file your first note.
It is the overall objective, "the why" behind what attracted you to the antinet in the first place.
You ought to have at least vague, or a general direction in what you intend to use it to build. Meaning, you need to have a specific book, or project, or article that you use the antinet to help you create.
Fortunately, because it is an organic, evolving structure; though one that is not dynamic, or flexible——but also not rigid, like a taxonomy/Dewie decimal system). In another daily issue, I'll teach you the concept of the rough structure that accurately represents Luhmann's antinet system, which Johannes Schmidt agrees with as well.
Indeed, because of this, it doesn't matter too much. Even if your objective is simply to retain information from the books you read so that you can apply them, later on in life, that's enough to get started.
My Biggest Regret When I Began Creating Analog Notes Roughly 15 Years Ago
My biggest regret? It's simple.
I wish I had learned about the antinet 15 years ago. As of this writing, I have 16 Moleskine notebooks filled with handwritten notes and ideas from books and readings. It also contains entries of daily tasks, each day is written on one page typically.
I also have two boxes in my antinet. These two boxes are filled with notecards created between 2006 and 2020. These are similar to the handwritten entries in my journals, though they tend towards that of more reading notes and ideas from books.
The notecards I took from 2006 begun with the exhilaration one could expect when pumping their brain with the fuel it needs to grow. The fuel and workout I'm speaking of, of course, is the practice of writing by hand. You grow your mind much more effectively than highlighting, or writing digital notes when you write by hand; yet, after a while, your notecards begin growing in size. Pretty soon, the container or box you've placed them in gets tighter and tighter. Your notecard box becomes like a game of Tetris, but the one where you're bricked up. Yet, you have no idea where to even begin navigating it.
That, my friend, describes the problem of Ryan Holiday and Robert Greene's Notecard System.
But then... you get a new box! You begin filling up the new box until it becomes full, as well.
The problem is... after a few years, not only do your older notes, or at least sections of them, begin to catch spider webs, something even worse happens... you begin to resent the notecard technique and taking notes because, internally, you're aware that you rarely even look at many of the notes you write every again. Why? Because to do so, you'd essentially have to force yourself to review a section of notecards from a book, or a subject area you're no longer interested in.
Yet, some people can still power through such negative realities, regardless of this fact. They essentially delude themselves into pressing forth with their handwritten note-taking strategy even when they know, deep down, there's so much beneficial potential in the practice of taking notes by hand, yet because they cannot search their notes, or remember all of them well enough to build off them, they never experience the magic of the compounding effect which unleashes the genius-level ideas forming in their mind (as a result of writing by hand).
This feeling, this sense, this internal struggle, wherein you know the advantages of analog, yet also know its limits—and, just as importantly—the fact that you also know of no way around the limitations of the analog notecard system can lead to many to slowly, over time, abandon, or take a hiatus from writing notes by hand altogether.
There are unfortunate people, brilliant minds, who fall prey to such. For instance, well, myself first off! There's one example for you.
Here's another example: The same exact struggle happened recently to another man with a brilliant mind. Yet the man I'm referring to is known to have a brilliant mind by more people than his parents—err—parent (just kidding mom. Love you! Yes, I'm working on finding a wife to bear grandchildren for you. Basically, there are authors and brilliant minds who have fallen prey to the limits of analog notecard systems. They ended up abandoning their analog notetaking system for digital.
My goal is to ensure more brilliant minds do not fall into this trap.
By learning the magic that a little-known sociologist scholar used to help him publish more than 500 titles at the time of his death. The man was "one of the outstanding sociologists of the twentieth century."
Unfortunately, however, the specific spell has been lost, and obfuscated, and completely dismantled. It's near impossible to learn today...
And that, my friend, is what I'm working on fixing.
Until then, stick around here. You may learn a valuable lesson or two.
See you tomorrow.
To stay crispy, my friend.
END TIME: Thursday, 9:23 pm
"When not spending his evenings and weekends, inserting things into Stewie (his antinet)," Scott's dating profile begins, "Scott spends his time with his two cats. He's using this dating app in hopes of finding a capacious vessel to actualize parturition." Thus far, Scott's dating bio has yielded underwhelming results. ↩︎
Schmidt, Johannes. “Niklas Luhmann‘s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.” Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53 (2016). https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/record/2942475. Page 289. ↩︎
Scott P. Scheper