/ blog

On digital gardening

My initial reaction was a double negative. Although not fully defined as a “side project” - DG seems to now be a thing a lot of people in my industry indulge in while subtly conveying this as a virtuous practice that may lead to their future success by nurturing thoughts (thus the garden metaphor) or be a way to inspire more broadly others that would stop by. Although some people do this “gardening” privately, most seem to be very happy to share publicly with various levels of fidelity. There is something organic and human about the process. Almost an indie web vibe but some aspects feel wrong at the moment.

DG seems to be a rebrand of what used to be labeled “productivity tech” - not that it fully replaced it as some honest companies are still proudly wearing the label. With the general acceptance of mindfulness practices, productivity finally got recognized for what it is: a form of ego-driven hustle.

The virtue thing is rubbing me the wrong way. I was amused by Maggie Appleton's critique of the daily notes page (DNP) potentially leading to content collapse. Leading her to mention the old saying “Don’t shit where you want to think critically”. Of course, she expands on technical aspects of note-taking that I’m neither interested nor knowledgeable about. There is a smell of liberal arts self-importance. An impulse to record every thought, freely old fashioned style in a paper notebook, or a structured manner in whatever software.

Perhaps it is some contemporary peeps version of living an examined life. Plato himself seemed to be a man who liked control and virtue. Perhaps I’m just refusing the reality of the current tools and communication trends. There is after all more autonomy and introspection than in the social media of just a few years ago. Perhaps the Twitter dumpster fire, Facebook ever rising tide of sewage, TikTok doom scroll agony, and the Insta FOMO depression induced this DG thing.

The Digital Gardeners of today sound phony to me. Granted, in a less intellectually insulting way than traditional social media. But the impulse remains: I need to put a lot of stuff out to contribute and somehow make the world a better place. But after all, I have a blog... which seems to be the ancestor of the digital garden? At least blogging is clearly subjective and honest.

Content is content. It wants attention. Leads to distraction and often calls for tracking of some kind. The term content is the antithesis of knowledge. Or perhaps the unprocessed version of it? In any case a lesser thing than knowledge. In my current vocabulary map content is often associated with marketing.

Don’t get me wrong. Notes are fine, they absolutely fit in the basic needs of life, particularly modern life with all of its pragmatic logistical requirements. I also acknowledge that taking notes is a great way to store information for later review. Whether it takes the shape of a personal diary or work todos, notes are just a snippet, often short and personal. But nowadays it is a lot more than that. I believe I’d have much less to say if notes weren’t subject to the same issues as most web/app-based tools. Tools that have gotten so powerful, specialized, and available (and marketed) to all. Everyone does not need a second-brain setup. Perhaps researchers and assistants can benefit from such frameworks but I believe nobody really needs such things. Quite the opposite. Appreciate the one brain that you have and learn to leave it alone instead of trying to jack it up.

Tools distracting from ethics aren’t new or a productivity-tech-only issue. “It’s not because you can that you should” - translates here into: a free notion account could help you manage some stuff that stresses you out. But consider your relationship to the stuff in the first place and you'll address the root cause.

Holistically though, I see the argument for knowledge accumulation via writing being the foundation of human civilization. Notes are the seeds that eventually lead to larger, coherent things we call books. That’s an absurdly gross oversimplification but feels like it carries why everyone thinks taking notes is “important”. I’m convinced a lot of people practice note-taking because they think they may have a grand idea worth sharing with the world (definitely blaming social media and Twitter for giving a place for every brain fart).

For me, taking notes is just a temporary release. A tool amazing by its simplicity. A convivial tool like I.Illich would say. Thanks to it I can unload thoughts onto a “note” and literally forget about it. Sometimes fun stuff, like Robbie’s “silly band names and EPs” or long rants on bad days. It doesn’t need any fancy features, just a sticky.

← Index / Published on 2023-08-04