Doctor Who, Delicious, and the Commonplace Book
Once again, all my worlds colliding in interesting ways this week. For starters, I got Mark watching Doctor Who — he’s working his way through Season 4 with Doctor David Tennant on Netflix Streaming, and whenever the red envelopes show up, we slowly work our way through Season 5 with Doctor Matt Smith.
What the heck could this possibly have to do with Delicious.com and Commonplace Books, you ask? Excellent question. Here goes…
In the Season 5 episode “The Time of Angels” River Song reappears with her intriguing blue TARDIS book, which basically serves as her commonplace book of all things Doctor-related. But I didn’t think of it as her commonplace book till I saw some tweets coming out of THATcamp about digitizing them, plus Amanda Watson’s Ngram comparing commonplace books to scrapbooks. On top of all this, I’m reading Steven Johnson’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From (*highly* recommended) and I just came to the part in chapter 3 where he talks about the magic of commonplace books, particularly in regards to Darwin, who wrote copious notes and re-read them later to compare with other notes.
So with my brain churning around questions about commonplace books, a seemingly unrelated event happens — rumors spin out of control about my beloved bookmarking site Delicious.com riding off into the dot.com horizon, and suddenly I (and thousands of other people) start really thinking about where to keep our treasure troves of both useful and forgotten links (I’m toying with both Diigo and Pinboard, for what it’s worth…).
But then tonight I came back to Steven Johnson, where I’m still in the middle of musings about commonplace books – especially John Locke’s system of indexing his books and the Enlightenment habit of treating text as a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, here-and-there kind of thing. And I realized that these commonplace books proved invaluable to their writer-owners because they held everything … reading notes, letter drafts, observations, recipes … sound familiar? How many times have you tried to devise a Thing To Hold All Thoughts for yourself? Be it a filing system, a gadget, a piece of software, or a website — many of us are constantly waging this battle to reinvent the commonplace book in a digital age.
I realized that I don’t need a Delicious replacement. I need a whole bloody completely different way of doing things. What can serve as my commonplace book? My home laptop…? My Evernote account …? Do I go back to paper journals…? Right now I have ideas and snippets and quotes scattered across all of these places, which means I have a hard time finding that one recipe I’m thinking of or that one short story I have another idea for. So the good news for me is – Delicious and Yahoo aren’t the problems at all. The bad news is – I need to think about a much bigger picture and do my future self a favor by making up my mind and condensing my workflows.
Speaking of the future … a bit ironic that River Song is still using good old paper as her commonplace book centuries from now, isn’t it? *
*Yes, I know it’s fiction, silly. But I also know the writers can dream up things like sonic screwdrivers and time-eating stone angels, yet they still trust memories to paper. I find that very, very interesting.