Listened Chris Aldrich on Cybernetic Communications from

Chris Aldrich has the most multi-disciplinary resume I’ve ever seen, with a background that includes biomedics, electrical engineering, entertainment, genetics, theoretical mathematics, and more. Chris describes himself as a modern-day cybernetician, and in this conversation we discuss cybernetics and communications, differences between oral and literary cultures, and indigenous traditions and mnemonics, among many other things.

The Informed Life Chris Aldrich on Cybernetic Communications

This is a fascinating conversation about memory, history and the changing of practices over time. I am intrigued by the discussion of ‘memory palaces’. I often find myself remembering where I was when I was listening to a book or a podcast, I am assuming that the memory palace is this in reverse. I also feel that Aldrich is someone who could easily speak for hours on these matters, unpacking each thread. As he says in closing:

Always leave ‘em wanting more.

Liked A Zettelkasten, Commonplace Books, and Note Taking Collection by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (

Below I’ve aggregated a list of some of the longer articles and material I’ve written about these topics. The completist can find and search my site for even more specific material with these tags: zettelkastencommonplace books, and note taking. I’ve also contributed a fair amount to the Wikipedia pages for zettelkasten and commonplace books.

Bookmarked The Two Definitions of Zettelkasten by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (

What do we mean when we say Zettelkasten? There’s a specific set of objects (cards and boxes or their digital equivalents), but there’s also a spectrum of methods or practices which can be split into two broad categories.

Chris Aldrich talks about what we talk about when we talk about zettelkasten. He continues his dive into the histories attached to note-taking. For me, this all reminds me of Doug Belshaw’s discussion of ‘digital literacies’ and the dangers of dead metaphors. What Belshaw encourages a discussion.

Our definition of digital literacies is something created by a community and continually negotiated. More often than not, this definition is taken for granted, rarely given air. Belshaw does not identify the eight different elements as an answer, but as a point of discussion. The definition is start of this discussion.

Replied to Interrogating Our Stuckness by wiobyrne (

We Are Not Living in a Simulation, We Are Living In the Past

L. M. Sacasas with an essay on the premise that life online is lived in the past.

The essay is organized into seven points.

  • On the internet, we are always living in the past – There is no present online, there is only recreation and memorialization of events of the past.
  • On the internet, all actions are inscriptions. We steadily create digital versions of events to create documented reservoirs legible to humans and machines.
  • On the internet, there is no present, only variously organized fragments of the past – We spend time, and effort looking busy by endlessly re-interpreting, reshuffling, recombining, and rearranging the past.
  • On the internet, fighting about what has happened is far easier than imagining what could happen – We fight about the past, and because our fights are documented online, there is no resolution…only more conflict and overwhelming/silencing/canceling others.
  • On the internet, action doesn’t build the future, it only feeds the digital archives of the past – I’ve written about this as digital breadcrumbs as we look to the trail we’ve created, as opposed to looking forward.
  • Because on the internet we live in the past, the future is not lived, it is programmed – As we spend time documenting and digitizing our past, these data points are scooped up, aggregated, and form the structure that dictates future actions.
  • On the internet, the past is a black hole sucking the future into itself – Our capacity to live in the present and imagine the future deteriorates as attention, energy, and creativity are devoured.

Two things are sticking out for me. First, I’m thinking about some of the focus in last week’s issue of DL in which we discussed reading and time for reflection and how this impact the way we think, interact and make sense of the world.

Second, it makes me wonder why I continue to write this newsletter. ┐_(ツ)_┌━☆゚.*・。゚

Ian, I was left thinking about L. M. Sacasas’ argument that life online is lived in the past.

On the one hand, I am left thinking about my breadcrumbs as possibly leading to slow hunches. The thought that ideas for the future are produced from pieces over time.

On the flipside of this, I was also left thinking about the way in which we have become content machines.

Like yourself, this all makes me wonder about why I do what I do? Why make it public? And why publish my newsletter? I think that I actually like the habit and find it a useful exercise in regards to taking stock of things, but maybe I am just fooling myself. I have long given up on taking much notice of the ‘clicks’. In general, I only POSSE now days when I feel there is purpose.

Anyway, I best get back to the past.

Bookmarked Why A Good Idea Takes 13 Years To Arrive – Creators Hub – Medium by Clive Thompson (Creators Hub)

So the lesson is: Treasure your long hunches. Gather wool slowly, and patiently. Keep lots of notes about things you’re learning and thinking about, and don’t worry if you feel like you’re being digressive. If you find yourself reading up on something that seems like a weird side-distraction, let yourself go there. It might be your brain working slowly — very slowly — on a hunch that won’t reveal itself for another ten years.

But when it does, it’ll be great.

Clive Thompson reflects upon the importance of slow hunches. He traces his journey from reading Oliver Sack’s discussion of proprioception to the recognition that Twitter is an example of social proprioception. Thompson highlights the importance of collecting ideas and keeping a commonplace book.

Bookmarked Monks, a polymath and an invention made by two people at the same time. It’s all in the history of the index (ABC News)

The need for this 800-year-old invention was so strong that two people came up with it at the same time. It’s as useful today as ever.

Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Julie Street discuss Dennis Duncan research in the index. He explains how the practice evolved separately in Paris and Oxford during 1230. Although the two inventions were not connected, they were both associated with the rise of the university and the lecture.

In the early 13th century, two things happened to create the perfect time for the invention of the index.

One was the creation of universities. “Not coincidentally, Paris and Oxford are the places where the universities have just arrived,” Dr Duncan says.

The other thing was the arrival of preaching or mendicant religious orders, and a new idea to have friars live among the people in big cities to preach and “stop the flock from going astray”.

Duncan also makes the case for human curation and says that although the idea of the index is central to the web, it is also something that cannot be completely automated. To demonstrate this, he provides two index for his book, Index, A History Of to demonstrate the differences.

This has me wondering where this all I wonder where this sits within Chris Aldrich’s research into the history of commonplace books.

Replied to Are Digital Gardens Blogs? by Wouter GroeneveldWouter Groeneveld (

Cory Doctorow has been calling his blog his Outboard Brain since 2002. Outboard brain, not Second brain. He must have had notes—either in his head, on paper, or digitally—before being able to put the message out there. Quite a few people reach for WordPress to build their digital garden nowadays, and although WordPress is the de facto blogging tool, the result is all but a blog.

I really appreciate your though provoking reflection Wouter. I have been left thinking after your post a few months ago about ‘posting everything‘, especially after reading some of Chris Aldrich’s recent discussions about commonplace books.

I would consider my Read Write Respond site as a ‘blog’, but agree with you that my Collect site is not really a blog. In some respects I would be happy enough to make it private is it is primarily my own secret garden with the gate left open. This is why I curate my monthly newsletter. It is a habit which I find forces me to look back through all the noise. I think this creates a clearer narrative to pick through than my multitude of links.

Although I believe in webmentions as a way of commenting on other posts, one of the reasons I have not made more of my posts private is because I like using Webmentions to connect pieces within my own site. This was brought to a head this week when an update seems to have updated my settings to say no self-mentions stripping my site of all my own self-webmentions. This has force me to consider what I want from my site, even more so after reading your reflections.

Listened Interview with Chris Aldrich from
Andy Sylvester discusses tools for thinking with Chris Aldrich. Aldrich suggests rather than finding the right solution, find something that works for you and stick to it. Associated with this, it is important to have a purpose for your notes, otherwise it can become an albatross around your neck. In regards to commonplace books, Aldrich touches on the long history and questions the need to recreate the wheel.
Replied to An Index for My Digital Commonplace Book by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (

In reading about the history of commonplace books, I figured it’d be nice to have a full listing of all the categories and tags on my website for public reference. So I’ve now added an Index page.

Thank you Chris for link to Multi-Column Tag Map. I have created my own now. I have long wanted to build a better search page that allow me to filter search using tags and text. I think that this is a useful start. It is also a useful reminder to keep on top of my tags and clean up inconsistencies.

Side note, through the process I discovered I have 147 posts tagged ‘Chris Aldrich’.

Bookmarked How I export, analyze, and resurface my Kindle highlights by Sawyer Hollenshead (Medium)

My workflow for exporting my reading highlights, and how I publish those highlights to my personal website.

A workflow from Sawyer Hollenshead for pulling Kindle highlights and storing them on your own site. He shares some of the pieces here.
Replied to by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (

Who else keeps a waste book? 
I carry around a small notebook (usually a 48 page Field Notes) for short fleeting notes. Later I copy them into my commonplace book/zettelkasten/digital garden and expand upon them. 
Waste books were used in the tradition of the commonplace book. A well known example…

Chris, I think having analogue fleeting notes is the step I am missing at the moment. I find myself scribbling things in my work notebook as they come to mind, but I think that I should try a little pocket book for quick ideas.
Bookmarked Differentiating online variations of the Commonplace Book: Digital Gardens, Wikis, Zettlekasten, Waste Books, Florilegia, and Second Brains by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (

Many of these products are selling themselves based on ideas or philosophies which sound and even feel solid, but they’re completely ignoring their predecessors to the tune of feeling like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. As a result, some of the pitches for these products sound like they’re selling snake oil rather than tried and true methods that go back over 2,000 years of intellectual history.

With so much discussion of note taking tools, Chris Aldrich considers some the examples found in history of Western civilization. This includes commonplace books originating from Ancient Greece, Florilegium in Medieval Europe, Zettelkasten in 15th century Germany, Waste books/Sudelbücher derived from double-entry journals, and Wikis and digital gardens associated with the web. One area I wonder about is outliners and where these fit within the discussion of commonplace books? Are they a flavour or digital gardening? It has been interesting seeing some of Dave Winer’s engagements with Roam Research

It is also interesting to think about this alongside Clive Thompson’s exploration of to-do applications. I am intrigued to how they sometimes crossover.


Most significant thinkers, writers, and creators throughout history have kept something resembling a commonplace book. While many may want to attribute the output of historical figures like Erasmus, Newton, Darwin, Leibnitz, Locke, or Emerson to sheer genius (and many often do), I might suggest that their works were the result of sustained work of creating personal commonplace books—somewhat like a portable Google search engine for their day, but honed to their particular interests. (One naturally can’t ignore their other many privileges like wealth, education, and time to do this work, which were also certainly a significant factor in their success.)

Replied to On Digital Gardening, Blogs, and Knowledge (

I like the idea of grooming my reference material but I can barely find time to do laundry. I think one of my biggest problems is over-saving. Stars, favorites, reading lists,bookmarks, notes, playlists, and the whole mess of podcasts, is exhausting to keep track of, let alone keep alive and healthy. I recently looked back over my collection of Pinboard bookmarks when I moved to It was a nice walk down memory lane but most of it has very little value to problems I am now dealing with.

I enjoyed this reflection Gabe, in particular your comment about who you want to be.

I want to be the person that reads these long heady articles “later” but life has different plans for me. I don’t read anything later. I read now or I don’t read it.

I feel that it is continual question of balance. Although I agree with Amy Burvall:

In order to connect dots, one must first have the dots

The problem I have is how much time do you allocate to the collection of ideas and how much time do you allocate to putting them together in new and interesting ways.

Bookmarked The Memex Method | Cory Doctorow’s by Cory Doctorow | Cory Doctorow’s (

Blogging isn’t just a way to organize your research — it’s a way to do research for a book or essay or story or speech you don’t even know you want to write yet. It’s a way to discover what your future books and essays and stories and speeches will be about.

In this reading of his Medium piece, Cory Doctorow reflects upon the power of blogging as a digital commonplace book.

Every day, I load my giant folder of tabs; zip through my giant collection of RSS feeds; and answer my social telephones — primarily emails and Twitter mentions — and I open each promising fragment in its own tab to read and think about.
If the fragment seems significant, I’ll blog it: I’ll set out the context for why I think this seems important and then describe what it adds to the picture.

These repeated acts of public description adds each idea to a supersaturated, subconscious solution of fragmentary elements that have the potential to become something bigger. Every now and again, a few of these fragments will stick to each other and nucleate, crystallizing a substantial, synthetic analysis out of all of those bits and pieces I’ve salted into that solution of potential sources of inspiration.

That’s how blogging is complimentary to other forms of more serious work: when you’ve done enough of it, you can get entire essays, speeches, stories, novels, spontaneously appearing in a state of near-completeness, ready to be written.

This builds on a previous piece in which Doctorow unpacks his daily process.

Bookmarked An Appeal for Friction Writing (THR Blog)

Our writing process lacks sufficient resistance, hesitation, reconsideration.

Richard Hughes Gibson pushes back on the frictionless experience to help foster clearer judgement.

My case for friction in writing (particularly writing on the Internet) echoes and amplifies Kosslyn’s concern that frictionless design is partly to blame for the rapid spread of misinformation. When writing meets no impediments, we can easily become links in a chain through which misinformation spreads. Yet my appeal for friction writing goes to something even more basic: When you encounter (and pay heed to) resistance in your writing, you have the chance to change not only your words but also your mind—and even to consider whether you need to be writing something at all, or at least at this moment.

Borrowing from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg he talks about the power and potential of the waste book. This allows us to write more and share better.

This touches on Ian O’Byrne’s discussion of thinking twice before sharing that hot take:

I’d urge you to focus on first doing the work yourself before you move to the local context. Read up. Problematize your perspectives. Question your assumptions and biases. Listen to others.

Personally, I find sharing first in my own space before sharing elsewhere builds in a healthy level of friction. This also reminds me of Clay Shirky’s discussion of junking perfectly good workflows to maintain attention.

At the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

Some of those changes stick, most don’t, but since every tool switch involves a period of disorientation and sub-optimal use, I have to make myself be willing to bang around with things I don’t understand until I do understand them. This is the opposite of a dream setup; the thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

“Snakes & Ladders” in Murmurations, Months, Masters • Buttondown ()

Replied to Outline for Webmentions in Conjunction with Academic Citations by Chris AldrichChris Aldrich (

As an example, if Zeynep were to cite Tessie, then she could write up her citation in basic HTML with a few microformats and include a link to the original paper (with a rel=”canonical” or copies on pre-print servers or other journal repositories with a rel=”alternate” markup). On publishing a standard Webmention would be sent and verified and Tessie could have the option of displaying the citation on her website in something like a “Citation” section. The Post Type Discovery algorithm is reasonably sophisticated enough that I think a “citation” like this could be included in the parsing so as to help automate the way that these are found and displayed while still providing some flexibility to both ends of the transaction.

Thanks for this write-up Chris. It has me itching about salmentions and having webmentions passed along. I really want to have a link to my ReadWriteRespond posts on my Collect site to aid with linking. However, I was concerned about the implication in regards to Webmentions. Reading this post I am thinking that I would just need to put a syndication link on ReadWriteRespond and the webmention will flow back. Now to think about how I implement this.
Replied to Gardens and Streams (Kicks Condor)

I like Chris’ point about Stonehenge being the first wiki. It’s not that it’s a kind of left-field observation. I think that we understand better the work we do now by realizing that Stonehenge wasn’t just a work of art or an artifact for them – it hadn’t achieved that status while it was coming together.

Kicks, so much to think about and consider in regards to wikis and commonplace bookswikis and commonplace books. It helps in thinking I really like your point about h0p3 building towards something that is yet to be properly formalised.