Lately, I've been ruminating on this thought: how can we take better digital mental poops? Before you grimace uncomfortably, hear me out.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying: “You are what you eat”.
I believe this also applies to our information diet.
Everyday we consume information at 100 mph through the ever-rotating streams of tweets, articles, newsletters, and emails. Is it surprising that we feel drained and ADHD by the end of the day?
Like empty calories from highly processed food, the content tastes good in the moment, but leaves us unsatisfied and bloated.
Venkatesh Rao @vgr
October 4th 2018
311 Retweets1,275 Likes
Some say the antidote to this is to read more quality long-form podcasts, essays or books. And it’s true. I do tend to feel better after consuming high quality food and content.
Nevertheless, I don’t think the answer is to be a luddite and completely unplug from the world of time-sensitive information and cultural memes. I’d also go nuts if I read deep and serious stuff all day.
Like the touting of many spiritual masterminds before us, life is about balance. ⚖️
After all, being part of the human stream of ephemeral content is important towards securing and up-leveling our “job” in the human social computer. Being “plugged in” is a functional necessity, as is engaging with quality high-brow ideas.
As Robin Sloan lays out in his seminal blog stock and flow:
- 🌊 Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.
- 💪 Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
You can’t avoid flow as it’s the currency of the modern world. The real magic trick is to put them both together.
To keep the ball bouncing with your flow—to maintain that open channel of communication—while you work on some kick-ass stock in the background. Sacrifice neither. The hybrid strategy.
If we can’t eliminate the need to consume both kinds of content, how do we feel better?
My 2 cents is to take better digital mental poops so you don’t end up feeling mentally bloated and overwhelmed. You do this through:
- Creating *more* than you’re consuming - defined as producing new content (blogs) or processing content (journaling).
- Organizing & extracting the streams of information that come in (like our stomach organs do) for content creation later.
There’s tons that’s been written on the former. However, there isn’t much content out there on how to transform the firehose of information we consume and turn it into stock-worthy content.
Today, I want to talk about how we get better about that through a really cool concept called digital gardening 🌱
In French, “cultiver son jardin intérieur” means to tend to your internal garden — to take care of your mind.
What’s the difference between a digital garden, a note-taking app, and a blog? The digital garden sits between the former and the latter. It’s a place to share evergreen notes that are not raw like those in your note-taking app, but also not super polished like in a blog.
The digital garden also can spans decades, serving as an ever-evolving personal wiki to consistently wrestle with.
This differs from the nature of blogs and tweets in that they force us to make conclusive statements at one-point in time.
As such, they fail to take into account the future nuanced growth trajectories of these ideas as we continuously learn and edit our mental models.
Digital gardens are a safe space for one to incubate and nurture ideas over time.
It is a metaphor for thinking about writing and creating that focuses less on the resulting "showpiece" and more on the process, care, and craft it takes to get there.
It is a place to absorb information mindfully and apply it to the context of our lives and careers.
In order to go from note collector to original content creator, one's digital garden should ideally make it as easy as possible to explore the connection between various seeds of ideas so new ones can sprout - a concept James Altucher calls “Idea Sex”.
This is what a gardening guide (via mental nodes) for your mind would look like:
- Seeds. Seed your garden with quality content and cultivate your curiosity. Plant seeds in your mind garden by taking smart personal notes (taking raw notes is useless). These don't need to be written in a publishable form.
- Trees. Grow your knowledge by forming new branches and connecting the dots. Write short structured notes articulating specific ideas and publish them in your digital garden. One note in your digital garden = one idea. (what you're currently reading is such a note) Do not keep orphan notes. Thread your thoughts.
- Fruits. Produce new work. These are more substantial—essays, videos, maybe a book at some point. The kind of work researchers and creatives may hope will help them live beyond their expiration date.
In summary, the garden metaphor means:
cultivating your curiosity (the seeds) 🌱
growing your knowledge (the trees)🌳
and producing new thoughts (the fruits) 🍇🍑🍓
Just like plants in the garden ideas are in various stages of growth and nurturing. Some might wither and die, and others will flourish and grow. Here’s an example from Maggie Appleton’s Digital Garden:
So before diving back into streams of information (including this newsletter), how might you take a step back to create better systems of knowledge absorption?
Right now my personal digital garden is scattered across many tools and I’m in the process of consolidating them.
If you’re interested in hoping on Zoom to discuss this concept and share your current workflow, reply to this email. If there’s enough interest, i’ll put together a call for all of us to nerd out 🤓
- We can’t avoid flow (twitter, email, news)
- Digital poops help us feel better through content creation and organization
- Ideally we’d like to produce more stock/fruits (books, blogs, etc.)
- Digital gardens can enable us to do this
Thanks for joining me down this rabbit hole ya’ll!
Further reading on digital gardens:
- How the Blog Broke the Web by Amy Hoy
- Building a Digital Garden by Tom Critchlow
- The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral by Mike Caulfield
- Meaningness by David Chapman
- Mind Garden by Ness Labs
- Digital Garden by Mental Node
- Open Transclude for Networked Writing by Toby Shorin
- Designing a self-directed learning network by Winne Lim
- Strategic Digital Gardening by Willa
Other great examples of living digital gardens: Andy Matuschak’s working notes, Nat Eliason’s Article summaries, buster.wiki/, Joel Hooks’ digital garden, Tom Critchlow’s wikifolder, Derek Sivers’ daily journal, Gwern Branwen’s website, Maggie Appleton’s Twitter thread.