From a post by Jamie Todd Rubin, “Going Paperless: How Penultimate and Evernote Have Replaced My Pocket Notebook,” I’ve learned the concept of the “Commonplace Book,” which he attributes it to Jefferson:
The notion for the “commonplace book” comes from Thomas Jefferson, who used just such a book to capture pretty much anything: passages from books he was reading, notes, sketches, you name it.
Wikipedia takes it further back in its entry on Commonplace books. The name comes from the latin locus communis and the form got its start in a new form of fifteen-century bound journal:
Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.
I really like this idea. I’ve been thinking a lot about workflows recently (and listening to way too many geek podcasts on my commute). I’ve been muddling my way toward something like this. I’m currently using Evernote to log a lot of my life but there’s scraps of interesting tidbits that have no home. An example from half an hour ago: I was listening to Pandora the train when along came an unfamiliar song I wanted to remember for later. A Commonplace book would be a natural place to record this information (First Aid Kit’s Lion’s Roar if you must know, think Bonnie Raitt steps out with Townes van Zandt for a secret assignation at a Stockholm open mic night.)
Of course, being a twenty-first century digital native, my workflow would be electronic. What I imagine is a single Evernote page that holds a month’s worth of the bits that come along. I have something similar with a log, a single file with one line entries (lots of Ifttt automations like logged Foursquare check-ins, along with notes-to-self of milestones like issues sent to press, etc.). I’ll start setting this up.