Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Commonplace Cloud

Nimbus II by Berndnaut Smilde

I love writing “by hand” (talk about a recursive phrase). I use my journals all the time, but I also use a grab bag of free services on the web to keep many of my “commonplace” notes.

Kelsey McKinney talks about how social sites like Pinterest are the descendants of commonplacing. Be sure to check out the article, which has pictures of commonplace books from one of my favorite places: the Harry Ransom Center

Saj Mathew over at The Millions talks about Tumblr as a Commonplace Book with a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of living in “an archival age.” As usual, I would argue with the hand-wringing tone of some of his concerns:  
“[W]e live in an archival age, in which memory has reached a point of near-irrelevance. With the right keyword, we can instantly recall any message, photo, or article instantly. That memory is never endangered by the specter of forgetting endangers memory more than ever.”
I think we go about our days remembering plenty, personal interactions and childhood experiences, for example. I would bet we keep a mental record of many more people, some we’ve only met on said social media. I don’t keep phone numbers in my long-term memory like I used to, but I have a collection of emails, web addresses and passwords. Our memory will change and adapt according to how we use it, but I hardly think it will wither away. It’s a surprisingly old argument, one that Socrates made against writing, as in writing by hand. David Malki over at Wondermark, points out that we wouldn’t even know about this opinion of his if someone (not Socrates of course) hadn’t written it down. 

But I digress! Social media sites can be a great way to commonplace. Actually, the ease of clipping, saving and sharing ideas, quotes and images has encouraged many people to commonplace without even knowing that it is a thing. Still, consciously using social sites to collect material for later use is a little different than using these media to curate your personal image for public consumption. Fortunately, as William S. Burroughs says:
“Everything is permitted.”
You can use these tools however you want. Here are some of the ways I commonplace on the cloud. 

I’m a highly visual person, so I use Pinterest to aggregate images for writing specific stories and for prompts. When I find an inspiring image on the web, I’ll pin it for later use. I follow other users who are busily collecting images that I find fascinating. It is also an excellent resource when searching for images on a particular topic. The open environment of sharing makes this a powerful tool of discovery both through searching and serendipity. I also use it for recipes. 

Evernote, while not exactly a social site, has the most diverse uses, and is really the core of my cloud commonplacing. It has powerful organizational tools like tagging, keyword searching and notebooks for sorting disparate information. I use it to collect quotes, notes, and research for this blog and for the fiction I write. I keep market research and copies of all my writing contracts here too. I have a list of books to read along with their local library call numbers. I’ll be adding a comprehensive index to all my journals here soon. Evernote works across all my devices so I can access or enter information at home, work, on my phone, or even my old iPod. 

I use Goodreads to keep track of the books I’ve read. I post very brief reviews/summaries, more to jog my own memory about the content of what I’ve read. That said I’m happy to socialize and meet people through these social tools.*

There are dozens of other places out there, Imagr, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, and new sites being built every day. Explore what they have to offer, but don't forget to consider the ways that you can best use them to your own purposes.

* Certainly, I have nothing against being social! I use Twitter sporadically for random thoughts and links, and Facebook mostly with people I’ve met in real life or know through writing. Of course the ease of socializing 24/7, is terribly dangerous to artistic productivity.

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