This is a question asked by Valerie Andrews over on BizCatalyst360
My short answer is NO. No we can’t.
I’ll get into the main thrust of my positon re the article in a moment - but first lets' talk about ‘the disembodiment of knowledge’.
“Disembodiment …. manifesting as a disruption of bodily self-awareness which induces a disturbing feeling of self-detachment or “depersonalisation”.
If that is disembodiment … then I don’t even agree with the premise. Maybe if a discussion ensues in the thread below - I will come back to this, but here is what I do know. The internet has certainly thrown open the doors to questioning facts and that is not always a good thing. But equally it is not a bad thing.
The world is a sphere is a fact. Despite the arguments. In fact, not to get meta - I would argue that simply rejecting the idea that the world is a sphere and is in fact flat is not an argument, but a simple unsubstantiated contradiction. I for one cannot get into those kinds of conversations.
“An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”
But some ‘facts’ aren’t as clear - because it tends to question what we have been taught. As an English school kid I was taught about India and Pakistan. I ‘knew’ the facts.
Or did I?
I don’t know the answer. But thanks to the internet I now know that what I considered to be a ‘fact’ is actually up for debate. It depends on your context.
Anyway. Back to the plot.
Valerie opened her article …
“This is the age of Kindle, cloud storage, and the app-for-everything. We’ve said goodbye to personal libraries and printed books, to cabinets and accordion files, to calculators and accounting ledgers. But is our understanding of the world—and even our sense of self— diminished as we lose our paper trail? The Berkeley artist Ann Arnold recently joined me in considering the advantages of the analog life. Here are our a few of our observations about old-fashioned ways of storing and accessing information.”
I don’t use a Kindle. I definitely use cloud storage and use a lot of (good) apps for things I want to do.
Just from that paragraph …
“We’ve said goodbye to personal libraries.”
No we haven’t.
In fact despite being very much a digital citizen, I have not said goodbye to most of the things on that list - other than (filing) cabinets and accordion files (thankfully). My calculator, accounting ledger and personal library exist on my computer. Needless to say, printed books do not - but yes, I do have them, because, like Valerie - I like them. Very much - just like my vinyl record collection and my CD collection they are very much part of me.
BUT - my information world is 90 to 95% digital. I have ‘everything’ on my computer - which means that where ever I am in the world - I can still pull up something I need when I need it - try doing that with your ‘at home library’ whilst travelling, or in the office, or on holiday, or from seat 36C on a plane crossing the Atlantic ….
In fact … to riff on another line from the article ….
“In the 2020s, the Englishman John Philpin viewed his computer as an extension of his brain, a virtual (fully backed up) vault filled with a lifetime of accumulated memories and accomplishments.”
Not to take away from the physical book or the analogue world … I love them both and the digital world is the same - yet different.
I too love the touch of the paper when reading the book - but knowledge isn’t only found on paper. Part of the knowledge I store digitally is in video format, others in audio format, yet others in image format. I am utilising beta software that allows me to find things inside of the video and audio. Not yet ready for prime time - but definitely coming.
Knowledge is also found in comments in threads - and if I see something like that - it is captured and added to my digital vault. Take for example this post, which was orginally going to be a comment posted to BizCatalyst. (NOT LinkedIN or Facebook - as I intimated in those two spaces - I like to comment where the work is done.) If it remained a comment, it would still be added to my my digital archive with a link to where it was posted. As a post it is automatically part of my ‘knowledge’ world.
Meanwhile, in the image world Apple - and I suspect Google (though since I don’t use them - I cant absolutely say) - allows me to search for text inside of photographs. So I can take a picture of a restaurant’s menu and later search for that restaurant name - and up it comes, together with the phone number that I can click on to call.
Try doing that with a book!
Valerie also referenced French author Henri Bosco. How she described his thinking reminded me of Zettelkasten. Unclear whether he specifically used the methodology - but there are plenty of writers that do.
One of the systems I use in my knowledge management is Obsidian - but Notion and Roam are two other alternative. All of them support a digital version of Zettlekasten. I DO NOT use Zettlekasten - for my needs the overhead is too great - but I know people that do.
By the way - to answer …
“What do we lose as we toss out the stash of work-related articles, the stacks of reference books, the cabinets full of rigorous research, the piles of faded diaries and journals?”
I scan things into my system as I go. So I don’t have to make that decision.
Finally, it’s an old one - but thought I would share this YouTube video … imagining a conversation when the world moved on from the scroll to the book.
In conclusion, ‘HumanIT’ is moving on. The world of atoms is not being abandoned but rather it now has a companion in the world of bytes. I would say that the storage and retrieval (retrieval being something that Valerie does not specifically call out in her article) of knowledge is best managed by bits and bytes - not atoms … and so this transition is finally allowing knowledge to ‘come home’.
What do you think?