Casual Blogging and Hypertext

One of the advantages of adopting casual blogging is that the blank paper fear is banished. I put the date or a topic at the top and simply write what comes to mind. It should be easy to write. Publishing should be frictionless. But hopefully that casual journaling is the first part of a bigger process.

#Why blog?

In a note about the Tinderbox Meetup he participated in, Dave Rogers on Nice Marmot discusses why he blogs

I don’t do this for an audience. I do it for myself. I have no idea how many people visit here. I looked at the logs once, can’t make head or tail of them. Can’t deny that it’s a pleasure whenever I learn that someone reads what I post here, but I don’t chase it.

I’m also writing primarily for my benefit and grateful to those like Dave who have been steady readers over the years. Do we write ourselves into existence on the internet?

The narrative voice is the point of view, the way in which the reader will hear and experience the story. The first-person point of view invites the reader to see the story through the author’s perspective. The narrative voice is a reflection of the writer’s personality, a reflection of who they are. The writer displays their voice in the way they tell their story, the words they use, the aspects they highlight, the feelings they describe. Through the writer’s voice, readers can experience an event in a unique way.

Imagining an audience provides meaning to the public act of writing. Even if no one reads, there’s an implied listener. There’s a sense of creating something bigger than the grind of day to day life in art.

For years Michelle Silver, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, studied doctors as they shifted from being on call to doing secondary work to eventually retiring. And she found that, at the end, they essentially fell off a cliff. One day they were respected and passionate, with a clear purpose. Then they were just normal people.

Tinderbox is a hypertext tool

In his post, Dave makes some points about how these meetups and videos may not be doing Tinderbox any favors. I tried to watch the first one on blogging and as Dave pointed out it was filled with editing HTML and long complex coding that was not at all useful to me. Some of Michael Becker’s first YouTube videos were somewhat introductory gave me some nice ideas about setting up and using Tinderbox. For the vast majority of users looking at the new crop of personal knowledge management apps like Obsidian, Craft and Notion, I think it makes Tinderbox look too intimidating and complex.

Michael looks at Tinderbox as a programming environment, I fear, not as a hypertext tool for notes. Mark Bernstein has written about the philosophy behind the tool over the years.

Mark has always emphasized “incremental formalization”, which means starting with the notes and letting the objects dictate the organization as you go along. Obviously a set of notes referencing academic literature is going to need some way of referencing those publications, but there are many ways to accomplish that and the approach could differ for different projects. This is from The Tinderbox Way:

Tinderbox is designed to help you write things down, find them, think about them, and share them. Tinderbox is an assistant. Its meant to help, to facilitate. Its not a methodology or a code. Its a way to write things down, link them up, and share them. Its a chisel, guided by your hand and your intelligence.

The other key feature of Tinderbox is that it’s built on a hypertext foundation, supporting multiple views into the notes. Not only are there note to note links, but text to text and note to text links. You can look at a set of notes as an outline or as a map.

As we’ve all recognized over the years, Tinderbox’s greatest weakness is that flexibility. The competing tools have clear affordances that show you how it is to be used. But the truth is that it really only takes a few hours of use to start down the road of note taking and incrementally building a structure to support workflow.

Right now, I’m in the process building a Zettelblogging Tinderbox. My use is different from anything I’ve done before because of the wide variety of topics I’ve been writing about here at ODB. The other difference is that I’m putting Tinderbox in the center of a processing flow where text flows from Drafts into DEVONthink and on to Tinderbox for summarizing. I’m surprised that I’m then moving my notes out of Tinderbox into Ulysses to become text again. It’s a chain, but each program is supporting a unique activity.

It’s important to summarize and synthesize. Otherwise you fall into the well known Collector’s Fallacy

But knowledge-building doesn’t work that way. And saving content into some archive doesn’t either. I’m guilty of this myself. Having used Evernote for a decade I was used to saving everything I wanted to remember into the tool. I sorted and curated, tagged, and sometimes even highlighted content. But I fell victim to the Collectors Fallacy. Because you collected something doesn’t mean you learned it or are able to explain it.

This is where the hypertext environment of Tinderbox excels for me.