Zettelkasten mostly for knowledge collection
For the past two weeks I have immersed myself completely in ways of organizing knowledge (funnily only now that I have recently finished university - but then again, this is not so ironic given what "learning" at universities today typically looks like). I also read a lot about the Zettelkasten method and now set up a system for myself, using vim.
I see all the advantages of the Zettelkasten system - the atomicity principle, the inherent surprise generator (the word Luhmann used in German is much more funny) that even I felt after putting in just my remarks on a few pages in the book, and also the antifragility of it. However, I am not a "knowledge worker" in the typical meaning of this (buzz)word. I don't produce texts, I just read a lot. My main subject of study is history and most of the content in my zettelkasten is going to be about historical or cultural stuff (books on those topics, that is).
Now, if I were an academic writer or an author, I would be absolutely convinced that the zettelkasten is worth pursuing for me. However, I am not. I just want a way to organize my knowledge in a meaningful way, meaning:
- easier to remember content of books/sources even many years after I read them (I ensure this by using my own words most of the time)
- easy to handle technically (modified vimwiki + plaintext)
- fun to use both when putting in new data but also when looking at the result
- potential learning effect. Easier understanding of content as an inherent feature of the system
Particularly when it comes to history, I am somewhat unsure whether the zettelkasten is the most appropriate outlet for my notes. Sometimes I will have pages of chronological data or just factual statements without any ability of mine to add personal thoughts and also with no need to atomize the content. Sure, occasionally I will probably create some links/verweise to other notes whenever e.g. historians disagree on a subject, but oftentimes there is simply no need for me to do that and my sole purpose of writing down things into my vimwiki system would be to store my summaries of historical topics.
On a positive note though, as mentioned before, my desire to draw connections with (to me) surprising results has already transpired just after a two sessions of using the zettelkasten for one book, so I am also optimistic that I have some purpose for it.
To put it blunt and short, I am torn between two needs of mine: organizing factual knowledge in a survey-like way, basically like a traditional wikipedia page with floating, longer-than-zettel text on the one hand. On the other hand though, I see the power of the zettelkasten for other purposes of mine quite well.
Another way to put the "problem" of history-related content would be this: In one of the articles, one of the authors of this site described how he went through the cycle of reading a book and taking notes while reading, and then creating zettel out of these notes. This is what I have done for the book I am currently reading where it makes a lot of sense to me. However, if I read about the early human history or the development of the Peloponnesian War, I see no point in e.g. splitting the phases of the war into several zettel just to stick to the principle of atomicity (one zettel = one thought) and also a hierarchical structure sometimes might make more sense (e.g. creating categories for pre-human history, ancient history, medieval history etc.). But then again, in some cases, e.g. when it comes to comparing theories on the fall of the Roman Empire, I could see the use of the zettelkasten again.
So this leads me to the following question:
Should I put everything into the zettelkasten and atomize everything as intended, even things I do not feel I should atomize for the time being? Or should I simultaneously, i.e. next to using my zettelkasten, use a wiki for most of the history-related stuff?
I currently tend to the latter. But keeping a separate wiki next to the zettelkasten would of course come with the danger that I begin also putting more and more notes into the wiki that would actually be of good use in the zettelkasten. Also, I would often need to change my "mode of thinking" (which could however be solved by simply doing history note-transcribing in a dedicated session).
In any case, I would be very curious on your opinions on this.
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