Writing by Bob Doto

A Zettelkasten is Not for "Making Connections"

Many people struggle with understanding why we use short-ish, single-idea "atomic" notes in a zettelkasten. And, some come to the conclusion that it's simply because Luhmann had limited space to write on, or that digital convenience makes atomicity irrelevant. Here's a common statement I see made all the time:

"Atomic notes are an old answer for improving the meaningfulness of connections between notes."

The above is based on a (common) misconception about the zettelkasten: that it is for “making connections” and/or “gaining insight.” This, in my not-so-humble opinion, is incorrect.

A zettelkasten is first and foremost a writing tool meant to create an external, dynamically linked notes environment (even database) riddled with varying trains of thought that can be pulled from and expanded on in written content. Emphasis on "written content."

The entire point of writing short-ish, single-idea notes—so-called "atomic notes"—is because it’s easier to connect a single idea to many other single-ideas, then it is to connect a complex idea to other complex ideas. We do this, not to gain insight or make meaningful connections, but to write more. Writing is the place where insight is finally crystallized. So, for people who want to write a lot and very often and very regularly, having hundreds of connected ideas to pull from on a weekly basis is a huge win!

If, however, your objective isn’t to become a "publishing machine" (Schmidt), then there’s really no need for atomic notes or the zettelkasten. If your interest is primarily in “making connections” or examining ideas, etc, then you can happily set aside both of these. You are free to go, as they say.

#2022 #posts #zettelkasten