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Author Topic: Why note-taking apps don't make us smarter  (Read 7658 times)

brotherS

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Why note-taking apps don't make us smarter
« on: September 03, 2023, 01:06 PM »
https://www.theverge...on-roam-mem-obsidian

Today let’s step outside the news cycle and turn our attention toward a topic I’m deeply invested in but only rarely write about: productivity platforms. For decades now, software tools have promised to make working life easier. But on one critical dimension — their ability to improve our thinking — they don’t seem to be making much progress at all.

I liked the article and thought I'd share it with everyone here. :) Food for thought...

Dormouse

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Re: Why note-taking apps don't make us smarter
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2023, 01:46 PM »
I'd say that it simply knocks down a bunch of straw men, except that the writer appears to have been a straw man. Why would writing things down make you smarter? The more time spent writing things down, the less time is spent thinking about them. And mostly he was just trying to put together a database; what advantage was he expecting of his database vs Google; after all, Google was founded on backlinks. He seems to have spent his time collecting and storing, and very little in thinking (tbf collecting and regurgitating are more key facets of journalism than thinking).

From reading Obsidian forum & discord & various PKM sites, I have concluded that the main uses of note taking apps are:
  • by students - mostly wanting to remember for exams etc. Note-taking technique akin to copying notes from blackboard
  • in business - for summarising meetings etc, making collected networking info more accessible.
The word zettelkasten is thrown around frequently, but with little knowledge of what it implies (arguably Luhmann spent more time going through his links and thinking about them than he did making notes from sources).
Not much sign of actual users believing it makes them smarter, far more use for a defined purpose. And not much sign of active use of backlinks either.

And then AI. Clearly won't make anyone who devolves thinking to it smarter. As he concludes, "I accept that to be a better thinker, I’ll have to devote more time and attention to wrestling with what I find" - except that there's little sign that he does accept it.

Deozaan

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Re: Why note-taking apps don't make us smarter
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2023, 01:27 PM »
I read your response and thought to myself that I really liked it and I wanted to say so, but hesitated because I felt I didn't have anything else to add to the conversation. But there is this:

The more time spent writing things down, the less time is spent thinking about them.

I disagree with this on some level. Writing forces me to slow down and focus on one thing, and to really think about how to convert my thoughts/feelings into words accurately. I don't always feel like I succeed in doing that, but I definitely put more thought into something that I'm writing about than something I just think about fleetingly and then let my brain move on from. Of course, that's not to say that I never put a lot of thought into things that I never write about. And the kind of writing makes a difference, too. If I'm just copying or taking notes then, yeah, I doubt I'll spend a lot of time thinking about it after that. But generally speaking I'm almost certainly thinking more about something when writing about it than when not.

Other than that little nitpick, I'd say I wholeheartedly agree with what you've said.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2023, 09:54 PM by Deozaan, Reason: fix typo »

Dormouse

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Re: Why note-taking apps don't make us smarter
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2023, 07:46 PM »
Writing forces me to slow down and focus on one thing, and to really think about how to convert my thoughts/feelings into words accurately ... If I'm just copying or taking notes then, yeah, I doubt I'll spend a lot of time thinking about it after that. But generally speaking I'm almost certainly thinking more about something when writing about it than when not.

I'd agree with that. You can use writing to help organise and systemise your thinking. And I'd tend to regard that as mostly thinking. But most of the note-taking I see described isn't really of that nature. There's a desire for recording, a desire for automation. People write links (surprisingly often in huge numbers), maybe even occasionally look at backlinks, but very rarely reprocess by reading notes and reappraising. I almost commented on the article's assumption that thinking is what happens when you're leaning back in a chair doing nothing except staring into space. I'm pretty sure that Luhmann was thinking most of the time he was making his notes; afaics the writer's note-taking style was far more writing/recording than thinking. I suppose my comment was aimed at that style of note-taking.

tbf most of my writing sessions split into chunks between time spent actually writing and time spent leaning back and thinking about what I'm writing.