Correct, I had hypothesized in many instances why we have this preoccupation for finding the perfect note-taking app. As I think back to the late 80s I have been perpetually on the hunt for the best way to capture and store what I casually describe as thoughts.
I often refer to it as the sticky note paradox. These little yellow “objects” harbor what could best be described as critical information. Yet, as soon as we digitize them, they become hidden. As a knowledge-faring society, we work our tails off trying to formulate the best approach to camouflaging everything that matters.
Fast-forward forty-plus years, the quest for the best note-taking app continues. The PKM (personal knowledge management) segment is still pumping out future shelf-ware. Mem, Tana, Obsidian - these are simply the latest crop moving through the revolving door. Even the future in Back to the Future is the well behind us (October 21, 2015) and we’re anxiously reading 2023’s Best Note-taking app reviews hoping, by some strange miracle that the nut has finally been cracked - we are all saved and the quest has ended.
Where We’re Going There Are No Roads
Doc Brown returns from the future in a flying DeLorean. Is it possible that the right note-taking and sense-making app is no app at all?
I’ve often felt that capturing things that matter to us in the context of PKM occurs everywhere. From the top of the information funnel to way down deep inside applications like a field in a database. The cone of sense-making activities is extensive and very deep.
You might be sitting on a blog and realize there’s something related to a cell in a record in Coda, which happens to be open in the adjacent browser tab. You’re determined to capture both of these observations, but your PKM platform of choice doesn’t work in either of them, and it’s not likely to - ever.
I think the capacity for PKM interoperability intersects with two realities:
- The note-taking funnel is an abstraction, an economic externality to every PKM tool.
- Artifacts gathered in this abstraction must be easily found when needed.
These are universal attributes that hold true in all PKM activities. From innovators to users, we generally believe that a single PKM tool can meet many, if not all, interoperability and findability requirements.
If you own a really nice electric vehicle, its true value is determined by its ability to be conveniently charged. Elon Musk was visionary; he realized infrastructure was a critical economic externality of Tesla’s automobile success.
Your second brain’s architecture is no different; it needs infrastructure for its value to be fully realized. The two external realities outline the missing infrastructure and leads me to ask - is a note-taking app what we really need? Or, could it be that we’re just looking at this problem from the wrong perspective?
The top of the funnel, where notes begin, is what drives us to believe that an ITE must have an app of some sort. Imagine if you could tap a button on your phone and capture a note by simply saying it. This is already possible and I do this with Tana Capture and my notes are sent [cirquitously] to Coda.
I think we have everything we need for the ideal PKM. We just haven’t arranged the components in a way that ends the quest for the perfect app.