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Evernote, abundance and the value of forgetting

November 7, 2010

I have used notebooks for recording ideas, notes and tasks since college and I have shelves full of them. One of my first blog posts was about Moleskine notebooks.  Over the years, I have developed a system for managing topics, tasks, meeting notes etc. in these notebooks. I have journals from work, from vacations and even a few pages of daily journals from more introspective times in my life. And in nearly every notebook, I have used a boring meeting to create a quick index of things I might want to find again.

Recently, I have jumped into using Evernote for nearly everything I want to remember.  I currently use it on the Web, on the Windows desktop at work and at home, on my Android phone and on my iPad.  I have consolidated all my links from Delicious and abandoned that.  I had a library of PDF’s I have downloaded, read and valued on a local hard drive.  I uploaded those to Evernote and deleted the originals.  I dropped all of my writings from work, my dissertation, etc. into Evernote and deleted most of those.  I scanned some receipts and other paper documents into Evernote and shredded those.

I now capture any notes I might need from a whiteboard with my phone and import those.  Evernote is pretty good at recognising hand-written notes and making them searchable. I still like writing with a real pen in paper journals.  But now, when I record something I think I might want to find later, I take a picture with my phone and load into Evernote.

This changed prompted some observations:

Abundance.  Disk space is cheap and loading things into Evernote is available everywhere I am.  It is cheap and easy.  This means that I can upload more than I previously could file, draw, record, etc. and easily find it.  Because of tagging and search, having recorded all of this stuff gets in the way of finding what I want less and less.  In the past, digging through a file cabinet for that one receipt or paper your wrote 10 years ago when 99% of the stuff isn’t what you are looking for was very time-consuming.  Now it doesn’t matter if 99.999% of your notes aren’t relevant to a search–you never see them.  This brings me to another point…

Letting go.  There may be a temptation to manage your Evernote repository to make sure there isn’t redundancy, out of date stuff, or stuff you no longer care about.  Doing this with a file cabinet is probably not too bad an idea if you want to be able to find something fast.  In Evernote, unless you can do this with the original tags or notebooks you created, be sceptical of the value of doing it at all.  Abundance of space and the ease of storing and retrieving notes means “managing” as an activity isn’t worth your time.  Tag as best you can when you put the note into Evernote.  Write a few words that will remind you why this item was important to you and move on.  If you run across a note you want to fix, edit or delete it.  But don’t go looking for them.

The value of forgetting.  One of the best things about paper notebooks is that when you revisit them, you realise how much you forgot that never needs to be relived.  I often highlight or strike out old notes when I am looking for something in an old notebook, noting that something is forgettable (and good riddance!). The value of forgetting is immense for cognition, synthesis and creativity. I have a few details we need to remember very specifically (addresses, passwords, etc.). I have a few creative ideas that I will want to use as a launching pad for a future project.  Occasionally, I may have created a clever poem, story, essay or picture.  But everything else is in the way.

Evernote promises a simple and more effective way of remembering, and, hopefully, of forgetting. I doubt that I will search for Everything I have put into Evernote.  Some things will be forgotten, as they should be.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011 4:10 pm

    Who much disk does all of your data take up?


  2. March 22, 2011 3:41 pm

    As of 2011 March 22, I have 2450 notes with a local database size on my Windows 7 is 795 MB and about 48 MB of “Attachments.” On the iPad and Android phone, only thumb nails and cached notes are stored locally, so you don’t sync the whole database.


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