Going analogue(ish)

For the past two weeks I’ve been using a dumbphone (a Nokia 6300 4G), a reporter’s-style A7 pocket notebook, and an antinet zettelkasten (multicoloured A6 index cards in a box).

I’ve still been using my laptop as normal, and my iPad mini remains my main device for reading articles and ebooks, so I’ve certainly not gone low-tech for everything. My iPhone 12 is still charged and I leave it lying around the house, just in case I want to use it for online banking and photography – I do take a lot of cat photos – but I don’t carry it around, I don’t take it out of the house, and I pretty much never use it nor do I feel the need to use it.

I’m enjoying the more low-tech approach. My notebook and tricolour pen are always in my left pocket, and my Nokia is always in my right. No matter where I go, I feel like always have the tools I need.

The notebook

The notebook is a cross between a bullet journal and a general notebook – I have a list-view for July, then each day gets the day and date in red pen followed by a running log.

There’s no structure to it other than this; I include observations, quotes I’ve read, page numbers of books to add notes from into my ZK, how much petrol cost me, ideas for blog posts, thoughts about life in general, memories I’ll want to remember, brain dumps…anything and everything goes in that little notebook. There are no rules about what goes into it.

Going small has been key. It’s roughly the size of the iPhone 12/13 mini – but has a hard cover and stands up well to being shoved in a pocket. When I’ve used physical notebooks and bullet journals in the past, I rarely carried them with me as it was a logistical pain. This one is perfect.

The scrappy nature of it is also important. It’s messy, already getting dog-eared, and I’ll need to start adding tape to prevent leaves from falling out. The pages are crammed with inconsistent, spidery, sprawling handwriting; some notes are written nearly in the dark, others are written whilst I’m walking, and all are written in somewhat of a rush. I force myself to not care about how it looks – and that’s liberating, as the focus is on what I write.

The phone

I’ve been toying with trying out a dumbphone for a few years now. I finally took the plunge when I watched a youtube video about somebody who had given up their smartphone for a dumbphone for a month, and realised that my deep sense of horror at the idea meant I really ought to give it a go myself.

I spent a few hours googling the best dumbphone, ordered the 6300 at around 2am, and told myself I would do seven days. That’s it. Just seven days. I told my family and close friends I was doing this and to contact me via text if they needed me, as I wouldn’t see whatsapp or facebook messenger (my two main communication platforms).

It’s been two weeks and I’m not in a rush to go back to my iPhone – not just yet. I’d like to reach the 30 day mark and then see how I feel.

So far, I’ve noticed that I’m slowly losing that constant twitch and absent-minded need to check my phone. For the first week, I had nothing on it at all – literally just calls and texts – and I completely stopped checking my phone other than when it buzzed to say I had a text. I added in email the second week, and I’m going to remove it again – I’ve started getting my phone out to check my emails, just like I used to with my iPhone.

With my smartphone, I alternated between turning off notifications (and then compulsively opening apps to check them instead) and turning them on (and getting overwhelmed). The Nokia cuts out that possibility and that choice.

I don’t need to worry about an overload of texts. The only people texting me are the people I have told about this swap, meaning that they’re texts from a small group of people I care about and talk to regularly anyway.

When I type, it takes longer, meaning that I need to be precise and thoughtful about what I write. (I’m typically overly effusive.) I feel, at least, that my communication is more meaningful for it. I’m more likely to pick up the phone and call somebody now, which is helping to cure my phonecall-phobia.

There are significant downsides, due to what it lacks:

These are all little things you take for granted. You have to plan around this, and that in itself makes you re-assess how necessary it actually is. If it’s too much of a bother to plan around, did you really need it?

The Zettelkasten

If you’ve been in the ZK/PKM space recently, amongst all the excitement over Tiago Forte’s ‘Building A Second Brain’ you may have heard of Scott Scheper’s ‘Antinet Zettelkasten’.

(I’d strongly recommend having a read about it, if you haven’t already – I won’t rehash the full details here as that’s a post in itself. He also has a helpful YouTube channel, if video is more your style.)

I absolutely love Obsidian, as you can tell from my first post. I genuinely believe that Obsidian can be a revolutionary tool for notetaking and PKM.

The problem with my current usage of it, however, has been that it encourages my tendency towards the Collector’s Fallacy. It’s too easy to copy and paste things into it – quotes are my weakness – without fully reading and processing them. There are so many plugins that automatically import things for you, such as highlights you’ve made when reading books/articles/etc. It streamlines this collection in a way that requires almost no thought at all, once it’s set up.

This is lovely when you’re trying to build a knowledge database, such as notes on a research topic where you want, effectively, your own mini Wikipedia.

So what’s the problem with it?

Well, the way I use Obsidian is not Zettelkasten, beyond the idea of linking notes together. It’s effectively my own wikipedia filled with reference material – and lord, there is a lot of it.

My box of index cards, however, is a viciously curated selection of thoughts. As it is so much slower to write out a card than it is to type a note, I have a higher threshold for ‘I should make a note about that’. (I may still dump it into Obsidian, mind.) Again, as with texting, I am more precise when I write the note, as there’s less space and takes longer. I rephrase things in my own words, as I can’t lazily copy and paste. When looking for where to file it, I physically flick through other cards and that, in itself, prompts me to think some more.

(I also have a weakness for indexing – it’s ridiculous to find delight in experimenting with an index card version of Locke’s indexing system, but there it is!)

The biggest downsides of the antinet ZK is the lack of portability, how it takes longer to get to the right note/s, and how the cards themselves can almost stick together when you’re flicking through them. It’s also harder to include images, which I use liberally in my Obsidian vault; instead, I have to sketch them out or even go to the length of printing them out and sticking them onto an index card. (I haven’t actually done that yet…)

I don’t know if I’ll carry on with the antinet ZK and I’m trying to figure out where/how I want to use Obsidian vs my ZK, but it’s been an interesting part of the experiment as well.

The point of all of this: clarity of thought

Ironically, in a post about how going analogue has forced me to be more precise and thoughtful with my words, this has become quite long.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s been an excellent way to re-assess what actually helps me think and go about my day-to-day life.

I’d recommend it, if you have the inclination – or even if you don’t. You may learn something about yourself.