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robertogreco : indexcards   6

Taking note: Luhmann's Zettelkasten
"Index cards played a large role in research during the last century -- the 20th century, that is. And there is still a great deal of interest in using index cards as a means for organizing one's daily life. See, for instance, Index Cards, More Index Cards, Photos, or any number of other sites that are fascinated by paper or "analog devices," as they are sometimes referred to by geeks in this time when electronic devices take over more and more of our lives. But index cards clearly also were the model for important early programs intended for what is by some called with the unfortunate phrase "personal knowledge management" today. I mean such programs as NoteCard, HyperCard, and their successors, which began from the index- or note-card metaphor.

One of the more interesting systems for keeping such index cards was developed by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998). I have no great interest in his theory. I am fascinated by his method of keeping notes, and will therefore restrict my comments to this aspect of his work. But if you are interested, you can visit Niklas Luhmann for a short introduction to his theory. Clearly, his index-card-system and his sociological theory are connected in interesting, intricate, and not easily understood ways, but I will forgo investigating these for now.

One of the things that made his Zettelkasten or slip box (or note card file) so intriguing to the larger (German) public was a 1981 paper, entitled "Kommunikation mit Zettelkästen. Ein Erfahrungsbericht" (Communication with Index Card Systems. An Empirical Account. It appeared in Niklas Luhmann, Universität als Milieu. Kleine Schriften. hrsg. von André Kieserling. Bielefeld: Verlag Cordula Haux, 1992.) Luhmann claimed that his file was something of a collaborator in his work, a largely independent partner in his research and writing. It might have started out as a mere apprentice when Luhmann was still studying himself (in 1951), but after thirty years of having been fed information by the human collaborator it had acquired the ability of surprising him again an again. Since the ability of genuinely surprising one another is an essential characteristic of genuine communication, he argued that there was actually communication going on between himself and his partner in theory.

Luhmann also described his system as his secondary memory (Zweitgedächtnis), alter ego, or his reading memory or (Lesegedächtnis).

Luhmann's notecard system is different from that of others because of the way he organized the information, intending it not just for the next paper or the next book, as most other researchers did, but for a life-time of working and publishing. He thus rejected the mere alphabetical organisation of the material just as much as the systematic arrangement in accordance with fixed categories, like that of the Dewey Decimal System, for instance. Instead, he opted for an approach that was "thematically unlimited," or is limited only insofar as it limits itself.

Instead, he opted for organisation by numbers. Every slip would receive a number, independently of the information on it, starting with 1, and potentially continuing to infinity. Since his slips were relatively small (slightly larger than 5 x 8 cards, or Din-A 6, to be precise), he often had to continue on other slips the information or train of thought started on one slip. In this way, he would end up with Numbers like 1/1 and 1/2 and 1/3 etc. He wrote these numbers in black ink at the top of the slip, so that they could easily be seen when a slip was removed and then put back in the file.

Apart from such linear continuations of topics on different slips, Luhmann also introduced a notation for branchings of topics. Thus, when he felt that a certain term needed to be further discussed or the information about it needed to be supplemented, he would begin a new slip that addded a letter, like a, b, or c to the number. So, a branching from slip 1/6 could have branches like 1/6a or 1/6b, up to 1/6z. These branching connections were marked by red numbers within the text, close to the place that needed further explanation or information. Since any of these branches might require further continuations, he also had many slips of the form 1/6a1, 1/6a2, etc. And, of course, any of these continuations can be branched again, so he could end up with such a number as:

21/3d26g53 for -- who else? -- Habermas.

These internal branchings can continue ad infinitum -- at least potentially. This is one of the advantages of the system. But there are others: (i) Because the numbers given to the slips are fixed and never change. Any slip can refer to any other slip by simply writing the proper number on the slip; and, what is more important, the other slip could be found, as long as it was properly placed in the stack or file. (ii) This system makes internal growth of the Zettelkasten possible that is completely independent of any preconceived ordering scheme. In fact, it leads to a kind of emergent order that is independent of any preconception, and this is one of the things that makes surprise or serendipity. (iii) it makes possible a register of keywords that allow one to enter into the system at a certain point to pursue a certain strand of thought. (iv) it leads to meaningful clusters within the system. Areas on which one has worked a lot are much more spatially extended than those on which one has not worked. (v) There are no privileged places in the note-card system, every card is as important as every other card, and no hierarchy is super-imposed on the system. The significance of each card depends on its relation to other cards (or the relation of other cards to it). It is a network; it is not "arboretic." Accordingly, it in some ways anticipates hypertext and the internet.

Almost all of these advantages of Luhmann's numbering scheme are, of course, easily realizable in any database system that have fixed record system. And the branching ability is easily reproduced by wiki-technology. (For more on the relation of this approach and wiki, see "Some Idiosyncratic Reflections on Note-Taking in General and ConnectedText in Particular" or Idiosyncratic Reflections on Note-Taking).

If you would like to see a video of Luhmann, explaining the intricacies of his system, go to Luhmann on Zettelkasten"
indexcards  niklasluhmann  via:tealtan  2007  notetaking  indexing  notecards  cards  zettelkasten  memory  reading  archives  organization  habermas  branching  annotation 
june 2016 by robertogreco
Small, Moving, Intelligent Parts – Words in Space
"Abstract: The great expositions and World’s Fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries were known for celebrating new technological developments. The world of index cards, fiches, and data management hardly seems germane to the avant-garde, one of the central concerns of this special issue – yet the fairs made clear that information management systems were themselves designed, and were critical components of more obviously revolutionary design practices and political movements. Cards and files became familiar attractions at expos throughout the long-20th century. But those standardized supplies came to embody different ideologies, different fantasies, as the cultural and political contexts surrounding them evolved – from the Unispheric “global village” modeled in 1964; to 1939’s scientifically managed World of Tomorrow; and, finally, to the age of internationalist aspirations that led up to World War I. We examine how the small, moving parts of information have indexed not only data, but also their own historical and cultural milieux."

[See also this thread,

that points to ]
shannonmattern  2016  information  history  postits  hypercard  indexcards  cards  paperslips  1964  1939  data  archives  fiches  microfiche  datamanagement  officesupplies  ottoneurath  patrickgeddes  jamerhunt  evenote  writersduet  scrivener  notecards  obliquestrategycards  brianeno  peterschmidt  marshallmcluhan  julesverne  milydickinson  walterbenjamin  wittgenstein  claudelévi-strauss  rolandbarthes  niklasluhmann  georgesperec  raymondcarver  stanleybrouwn  marklombardi  corneliavismann  eames  fragments  flow  streams  johnwilkins  knoradgessner  williamcroswellcharlescoffinjewett  vannevarbush  timberners-lee  remingtonrand  melvildewey  deweydecimalsystem  srg  paulotlet  henrilafontaine  sperrycorporation  burroughscorporation  technology  kardexsystems  sperryrand  hermanhollerith  frederickwinslotaylor  worldoftomorrow  charleseames  ibm  orithlpern  johnharwood  thomasfarrell  wallaceharrison  gordonbunschaft  edwarddurrellstone  henrydreyfuss  emilpraeger  robertmoses  janejacobs  post-its 
june 2016 by robertogreco
Ban boring mike-based Q&A sessions and use index cards instead | Valerie Aurora's blog
"If you’ve ever been to a conference, you know the problem: A brilliant and engaging talk is coming to a close, and already a line of fanatic wild-eyed people (okay, mostly men) is forming at the audience microphone. Just by looking at them you know they will inevitably start their questions with, “This is more of a comment than a question, but…” Actually, you are grateful for the ones who are that self-aware, because most of them seem to genuinely believe that their barely disguised dominance play or naked self-promotion is an actual question that the rest of the audience would like to hear the answer to. So you scooch down lower in your seat and open your Twitter client so you can complain about how awful Q&A sessions inevitably are.

Fortunately, there is a way to prevent this situation entirely! Here is the formula:

1. Throw away the audience microphones.
2. Buy a pack of index cards.
3. Hand out the cards to the audience before or during your talk.
4. Ask people to write their questions on the cards and pass them to the end of the row.
5. Collect the cards at the end of the talk.
6. Flip through the cards and answer only good (or funny) questions.
7. Optional: have an accomplice collect and screen the questions for you during the talk.

Better yet, if you are a conference organizer, buy enough index cards for every one of your talks and tell your speakers and volunteers to use them.

Why is the typical line-at-the-mike style of audience question so productive of bad questions? To start with, it gives the advantage to people who aren’t afraid to put themselves forward first and rush to the mike first. This means most or all of the questions are from people with relatively little self-doubt and a high opinion of themselves. Another draw for the self-centered overconfident type is the chance to be the center of attention while asking the question using the audience microphone. Then there is the lack of built-in limit on the time the purported question-asker is speaking. Finally, there is no way to screen the question for quality until the question has been fully asked (sometimes taking minutes). The end result is a system that practically invites self-centered, overconfident, boring, long-winded people to dominate it. (And you wonder why women almost never ask questions at your conference?)

By contrast, writing questions on index cards appeals more to quiet, thoughtful, self-effacing folks who are considerate of those around them. It allows you to screen the questions for quality. It limits the length of the question. It encourages actual genuine requests for clarification on the subject of your talk.

Get rid of line-at-the-mike style Q&A sessions. Replace them with index cards. Your conference attendees will thank you."
q&a  conferences  commenting  microphones  audience  indexcards  events  valerieaurora  2015 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Journal of W. Ross Ashby
"while a 24 year old medical student…Ross [Ashby] started writing a journal…44 years later, his journal had 7,400 pages, in 25 volumes…

…digitally restored images of all 7,400 pages & 1,600 index cards are available on this web site in various views, with extensive cross-linking that is based on the keywords in Ross's original alphabetical index…

The user interface has been made as intuitive as possible, with links and pop-up information attached to everything that stood still long enough…

To browse Ross's Journal, you can perform any of the following:

1. Select a volume from the Bookshelf.
2. View the 14½ subject categories in the Other Index.
3. Browse through the 678 keywords in the alphabetical Index.
4. Enter a page number between 1 and 7189 here: then press Enter.
5. If you are looking for journal entries around a particular date use the Timeline.
6. You could read the 2,300 transcribed journal entry Summaries.
7. Throw caution to the wind, and jump to a Random page."
information  indexcards  timelines  indexes  cybernetics  systemstheory  systems  staffordbeer  toaspireto  iamnotworthy  journals  notebooks  notetaking  notes  rossashby 
may 2012 by robertogreco
"In this way, I want to extrapolate from the specific case of Roland Barthes to develop a larger, concluding argument: that Barthes’ specific usage is illustrative of wider intellectual usage of card indexes as pre-digital creative media; in other words, not just as an archival device, but, crucially, as a key historical technology of invention. I intend this last term in the precise sense in which Derrida (1989) understands it, that is, as an oscillation between the performative and the constative, with the former working to disrupt itself (the performative) and the latter (the constative) – or what might be termed the unsettling operation of invention."
creativethinking  thinking  jacquesderrida  rowanwilken  rolandbarthes  indexcards  creativity  via:allentan  toread 
january 2012 by robertogreco

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