Rank and File

The influential German sociologist and systems theorist Niklas Luhmann wrote more than 70 books and 400 articles in his lifetime. As he explained in a 1981 essay, his super-prolificity was partially attributable to a note-taking system, the “slip-box” or zettelkasten. (Luhmann’s 90,000 note archive, and the special wooden boxes he kept it in, can be viewed online.) The idea of a zettelkasten itself is about 500 years old, but Luhmann’s use of it still feels like a technological disruption of thinking because of how he theorized it as an experiment in systems theory that would automate the process of thinking new thoughts.

In some ways, I’m trying to use this personal site as my own zettelkasten. I’m trying to take notes in a discrete way that are all searchable later on.

The human condition, the condition of the tool-using animal, is to be perpetually vulnerable to mistaking instruments for ends.

I’ve certainly been vulnerable to this in the past. I need to constantly be asking myself, “am I really doing the right work right now?” Typically I find that once I enjoy using the system, that eliminates a lot of the distraction from building it out more.