Behold, the power of the commonplace book, a system with deep historical roots. As author Steven Johnson says:
Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, ‘commonplacing,’ as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations.
The practice remains the perfect way to harness the colossal amount of digital content we see. And technology has provided us with flexible frameworks capable of helping us capture, curate, and retain information. As Ryan Holliday notes, commonplace has plenty of utility in our modern life:
A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.
Taking Note: What Commonplace Books Can Teach Us about Our Past Posted by Taylor Pipes on 26 Feb 2016
Periodically, I’ve attempted to use a “journal” to track my thoughts. It began with a journal in my late teens. I abandoned that in embarrassment, even destroying it. For ten years I used my day planner as a common book, writing and drawing in it. In grad school I kept a dedicated common book. It was very satisfying and as this article suggests, it organized my thinking. Since the advent of my digital life, common books have been in disarray. My writing was fragmented across too many applications.
Finally, I am bringing order to this. I feel the lure of a print journal still, but it can’t compete with the convenience of a phone or iPad. My efforts have gravitated to Evernote finally. This article Common books seems to be my first introduction to a very old term. I use Evernote to compile links, quotes, resources, and personal ideas now. It is not my only digital tool. It is the most personal. Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and this blog are more about sharing ideas.
Student exercise books, which I have been referring to as “learning journals” are evolving slowly into common books. After reading this article, I think I will adopt the name.