3 min read

28/10/2021 6:39 AM

(I started a new job this week and I'll be adjusting for a while, so these posts might get even more note-y than before. This one's just a very short half-arsed linkpost with some quotes pulled out.)

I like the latest post in Venkatesh Rao's Captain's Log blogchain, which is a sort of meta one talking about the log format itself. These posts just have a datestamp, not a normal title, and are a kind of experiment in high-indexicality writing:

This sort of writing is arguably indexical writing. Writing as self-authorship. What doesn’t have its own name, theme, and narrative is part of you. In fact the only thing holding it all together is the fact that you’re writing it. This is a self-reinforcing effect. The act of writing in that mode sort of encourages those least detachable thoughts in your head from emerging and making themselves available to hold and be.

I've also been using this notebook to experiment more indexical writing, but I do still have at least some sort of title for each post. Except this one, where it seems appropriate to just have a timestamp. I've already got a hotkey script to autoinsert a datetime (I got the idea from Malcolm Ocean's similarly named Captain's Log) and I've been finding that useful for (very sporadic) personal diary entries. Makes sense to reuse it to make the title here.

Some interesting bits about how log entries stay at this sort of murky crepuscular first-brain level, without the technology of a handle to find them again:

I couldn’t remember anything of what I’ve written here, so I just went back and read the whole series, all 20 parts, and it’s already slipped away from my mind again. Names are extraordinarily strong memory anchors and without them we barely have textual memories at all. I can recall the gist of many posts written over a decade ago given just the name or a core meme, but for this blogchain, even having re-read it five minutes ago I couldn’t tell you what it was about. The flip side is, it wasn’t actively painful to reread the way a lot of my old stuff is (which is why I rarely re-read). In some ways it was kinda surprising and interesting to review. The lack of names means a lack of fixed mental models of what posts were about. It’s weird to be able to “cold read” my own posts. It’s like simulated Alzheimer’s or something, and it’s almost scary. It would be terrible to go through life with this level of non-recall.

And some stuff about notebooks:

Back in grad school, 20 years ago, I used to be very diligent with paper notes. There was a metacognitive process to it. I’d summarize every session’s notes, and keep a running table of contents. I’d progressively summarize every dozen or so sessions. My notes were were easy and useful to review. Now I’m lazy, I don’t do anything of that sort. It’s just an uncurated stream of consciousness. With just a few pages left in the notebook, I tried to go back and reconstruct a table of contents (thankfully I was at least dating the start pages of each session) but it was too messy, hard, and useless, so I gave up. Progressive summarization ToC-ing is only useful and possible when you do it nearly real time. Naming and headlining work only when you name and headline as you work. So what I have with this latest filled notebook is just one big undifferentiated idea soup that’s nearly impossible to review. It’s worse than Dumbledore’s pensieve. It’s something of a memory blackhole. It is recorded but not in a usefully reviewable way. But arguably, not doing the disciplined thing led to different notes being laid down. I thought and externalized thoughts I would otherwise not have thought at all. I can’t prove this, but it feels true. And while it’s harder to review, perhaps the process of writing made it more transformative?

I also have one of these pandemic 'memory blackhole' notebooks, and I have the same sense about it. Will be interesting to review later.

OK, done now, that's the post. Told you it would be note-y.