Before Google archived the web and made everything searchable there was the 3″ x 5″ index card used to classify “every known animal, plant, and mineral in the world.” By the 19th century, libraries used index cards as the standard way to store books.
“It’s amazing how much the information revolution we’re still living in can be traced back to a simple 3″ x 5″ piece of card stock.”
Whether you journal, blog, or keep a collection of inspirational images and quotes on Pinterest or Tumblr, you’re continuing the tradition of zibaldoning. A zibaldone was a 14th-century scrapbook that means “a heap of things” in Italian.
“Some media scholars argue that commonplace books and zibaldones were precursors to the Internet, which is similarly scrappy and mixed-up, rich in influences and perfectly willing to zig-zag between genres.”
19th-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi was the person to modernize the zibaldone to include musings, drafts of his poems, and observations. Others hodepodgers like Thomas Jefferson copied passages of their favorite novels into his scrapbook for quick reference.
Zibaldones were a way to archive memories, bookmark notes, and make sense of the world. They served as a bank of reflections and a guidepost for a living. Said Leopardi’s on his commonplace notebooks:
“You learn about a hundred pages a day about how to live. But the book (this book) has 15 or 20 million pages.”
Modern-day zibaldones are web-based applications that have become a way to show your work and thinking as it progresses. But if you still prefer analog, “All you need to start your own zibaldone or commonplace is a blank notebook, a pen, an open mind, and maybe a roll of tape.”
The researchers postulate that the effect might stem from the fact that while typing, it’s easy to write down verbatim what the speaker is saying, without really thinking about it. Taking notes by hand requires listening to the information being said, processing it and then summarizing it in your own words.
Less is more. Writing notes down in your own words helps you recall more information than if you type them out.
If there’s one thing I’d like to do more of it’s visual note-taking.
You don’t have to be a good artist to engage in visual note-taking. You just have to be really good at using your imagination to illustrate the most important information. Every bullet point can be substituted with a doodle.
Images pre-interpret thought. Images tell stories, so much so that you don’t even need to read captions. Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, have taught us to inform others with storytelling images. Images convey everything we want to say.
I remember the days I used to browse Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine just looking at the images. The images drove me to the articles. The headline might as well been missing.
As I get older and digital allows for more customization, I like to move swiftly in and out of images while reading. I just scan the headlines in my RSS feed. I scan all the newspaper articles on my Kindle and just read the articles of interest. But I also follow image-based stories more than ever. Instagram does a great job of storytelling world events through images on its blog. I make sure to turn on expanded view when viewing my RSS creative design feeds.
Taken together, image and text enable readers to dig as deep as they want. But when it comes to summaries, there may be nothing better than just a visual that explains the whole thing. No time lost.