My blog as a commonplace book

Greg Linch likes to talk about commonplace books. It’s even what he named his Tumblr. Basically, it’s a means of collecting and storing all those bits of information that make our lives interesting. It could be a photo, an essay, or a quote. Regardless, it’s important information that you want to mark and save for later.

This has long been the approach I’ve taken to this site. Years ago Matt wrote about how asides are useful.  Presenting content in the form most appropriate is something I have tried to make more explicit in the design of this site. It’s why I’ve also experimented with things like the reading list that I now have. Different content requires different presentation but there’s no reason it can’t all live in the same house.

Anil Dash has said, “I expect that my blog will in some ways be one of the most significant things I create in my life.” I agree. There’s something immensely powerful about taking a corner of the web and saying “this is mine.”

Sharing things in my corner of the web makes them also form a part of my identity. What I share, to a large extent, is who I am. It’s how I communicate with you even if I’m not able to talk to you everyday.

As this history of shared items grows there’s also the fun aspect of flipping back through it. Steven Johnson has a great post about the commonplace book where he writes that:

Each rereading of the commonplace book becomes a new kind of revelation. You see the evolutionary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red herrings; the ones that turned out to be too obvious to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession.

Where I can, I avoid farming out my identity. If I do sharecrop I back it up. This is why my blog is my public commonplace book. The collection makes me, me. It’s on my domain. It’s free. That’s all important because if I lose my shared items, I lose a part of that core identity.

The destruction of a sharing service means I would also lose the ability to flip back through a history of my thought. Those long-forgotten hunches would stay forgotten and lost to history. Without a commonplace book that you control you’re gambling your ability to learn and grow from your current actions.

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