March 26, 2021•460 words
Recently, a new wave of Zettelkasten-based note-taking apps emerged on the market.
If you're familiar with the topic, you definitely heard about Roam, Remnote, and my favorite, Obsidian. The basic concept of these tools is that digital notes get linked together to create a sort-of second brain, a personal wiki, where each note is a "neuron" connected to others.
Oh boy, did I jump into it right when I found it.
Roam was convincing, but ugly and unreliable, so I didn't even try to implement it long-term. But Obsidian? A beautiful, fast, smartly designed, flexible app. As a knowledge-worker and student, this should be a perfect place to take notes, connect them together, see information in context, as it should be. So I spent massive amounts of time building out my second brain. Linking notes together. It felt like I gained a unique superpower. I could think faster, more efficiently, every bit of information I ever needed was right there.
It never stuck for more than three weeks. And I tried this four times at this point. After a while, it always started to feel like a burden. Another system I had to constantly review. Update. Modify. On one hand, it was so frictionless, but on the other, just thinking about the sheer size and complicatedness of my second brain was intimidating to say the least.
I thought to myself: why? Am I so dumb I can't tap into this superpower? Is my thinking too basic for this next-level tool?
Our thinking rate is fixed. Becoming a better thinker requires time and practice. There is no way to "speed up your brain". Gain a superpower. Ha ha.
In the entire concept of tools for thought I personally always encounter a barrier. A point where my system feels to be more than me. It grows and grows and grows. It reaches a place where I can't envision the entirety of it in my own brain. A second brain should be supplemental, not fundamental. If I can't think without my second brain, or my second brain does all the thinking for me, then my primary brain is lost. A state in which I feel extremely uncomfortable, and plainly, unhappy. I feel like I've lost a part of myself.
In terms of digital notes, I always come back to Standard Notes. The most stupidly simple "second brain" out there. Supplemental, not fundamental. Not fancy. Not "feature-rich".
So I'm going to build a real zettelkasten, like the one its creators envisioned. A physical collection of boxes containing real, physical pieces of paper. A collection I can grasp, understand, manipulate in my own brain. And, most importantly, feel.
You get better by doing the work, not by having someone do the work for you.