Creating an oasis with Zettelkasten characteristics

Thinking Out Loud No. 41

Hello everyone!

In this edition of Thinking Out Loud I talk about the launch of my new website — Expanding Awareness — but I wanted to open with this little pseudo diary entry. I hope you are all well wherever you are in the world.

☕️ 1.10pm, Tuesday 18th May.

I'm sitting in a cafe with my laptop for the first time since...oh... some time in 2020? I can't remember when, exactly.

It's a strange mix of familiar and uncanny. I have done this countless times before, but right now it feels different. I'm allowed to be here, says the state.

But after so long telling myself that this isn't something I can do, can I allow myself to be here?

The transition back won't take long, I'm sure. But still, there is a transition.

Hello transition.

🎉 Launching Expanding Awareness - an oasis with Zettelkasten characteristics

I'm extremely happy to share that I've made a new thing: It's alive!! Here’s the latest post: Disengaging your parking brake

I plan to grow Expanding Awareness into an online oasis for all my Alexander Technique and adjacent explorations. I want to create a space where readers can get happily lost in a world of ideas, going from link to link in pursuit of whatever catches their interest and experience delight often.

Sounds lovely, but what's a Zettelkasten, Michael?

Oh yeah, that.

The Zettelkasten ('slip box'), developed by Niklas Luhmann, is a system of interconnected notes that, upon reaching a critical mass, becomes a conversation partner for its owner. An emergent intelligence both made from and additional to the intelligence that made it. A world of ideas where you can get happily lost going from link to link in pursuit of whatever catches your interests and experience delight often.

Oh look what happened.

I've been building my own Zettelkasten as part of the Roam Book Club, and you bet I'll be writing a lot more about it (there are about 10 days left). One of the most important elements of the Zettelkasten is the interconnections between your notes, so Beau Haan (who leads RBC) has designed a system whereby upon writing each 'permanent note' you browse through all of the permanent notes in your Zettelkasten to see which else stand out as being relevant. Then you connect those to the permanent note you just wrote.

Don't worry if that doesn't make sense, I'll explain how I'm borrowing from this for Expanding Awareness.

Every blog post has a few characteristics:

  • a short or medium length encapsulation of a few ideas

  • a potential way into my oasis for any new reader

  • part of a web of other 'content' - other blog posts, videos, a newsletter, a course, podcasts, and so on

I want to draw people deeper into my oasis as the big ideas I want to communicate are too big for a single piece of writing. But since I have no real control over their entry point, I have to link all the things within the oasis together.

But I can't do it haphazardly. There are automated tools for blogs that show a list of 'related posts' after each post, but with a low likelihood that they are actually related. You can also get 'previous post' or 'next post' buttons that let readers navigate an ordered list of posts based on publication day.

Both of these have low value for me and the reader. What I want is some approximation of the way I would lead people through my oasis as if I were there with them.

Enter the 'hand picked relevant posts'.

When I'm done writing each post, I will browse through all the published posts and see which ones stand out. I'll link the ones with the strongest 'this is important' felt sense at the end of the new post in a "if you like that, you'll like this" kind of way. This would be additional to any inline links that make sense as part of the post.

This is valuable because it provides that vital 'follow the breadcrumbs' experience in a way that is driven by my own intuition. But more importantly it forces me to look regularly at everything I've ever published. It will show me where I can write a new post in response to something I've already said, those areas where I can add further texture and colour to the ongoing conversation.

Not only that, but as I add more and more posts, I'll be encouraged to go back through older posts and update them with new relevant posts.

All of this will have the effect of making Expanding Awareness feel like an alive, emergent and constantly evolving world. Subtle changes, more connections and new conversation threads will appear and take on lives of their own.

Like the Zettelkasten, I'll end up with a conversation partner, an intelligence both made from and yet somehow also additional to my own. Something that will surprise and delight me as well as others.

And that's not even getting to how Expanding Awareness might one day become a multiplayer thing….

But that's a story for another time.

Early morning walks in London

I’ve been going for a walk as close to waking up as possible every morning for several weeks now and it has become one of my favourite habits.

Not only is this really important to entrain my circadian rhythm — along with avoiding blue light in the evenings — but it’s also lovely to see London when the light is nice.

Here’s a photo over the Thames towards Canary Wharf… where I used to work, oh, what feels like a long time ago now 🙂