We've built up a habit of pointing — effortlessly — through links, tweets, reblogs, and likes. And this is really efficient. Super easy. We all do it all the time. Pointing is embedded all over our digital surfaces. It's an incredible vector for spreading ideas and pushing or pulling attention towards or away from things.
Most importantly though, is that digital pointing is nearly frictionless. Not only is the energy between seeing a pointer and clicking it almost zero, but so too is the energy required to create that pointer.1 The less friction, the easier it is to form a habit.
Connected to this, and more explicitly to do with reading, is the now exhaustively discussed idea of the digital public commonplace book.2
Findings provides tools for commonplace capturing across all of the web. Amazon has created an actual commonplace-book-social-network (although still a minimum viable product). They both give public addresses to our little nut collections.3
Traditional links allow us to point at whole documents or collections of documents.
These services let us point into documents.
Our notes and highlights get special powers as data in the public corpus. Search, of course. And increased accessibility. But also, they're votes. You're voting on interestingness within a particular text. There's a feeling that this is valuable data.4
Because of this, as you're highlighting your book, there's an unmistakable and growing sense of social usefulness to the act. The highlight is doing some work (or will be doing some work), not just sitting there to (hopefully) help you remember something later.5
In a recent interview, Clive Thompson, writer for Wired, mentions one tangible digital→physical example of leveraging his corpus of digital annotations:
I annotate aggressively. If I’m reading a piece of really long fiction, I often find that there are these fabulous things I want to remember. I want to take notes on it, so I highlight it, and if I have a thought about it, I’ll type it out quickly. Then I dump all these clippings into a format that I can look at later. In the case of War and Peace, I actually had 16,000 words worth of notes and clippings at the end of it. So I printed it out as a print-on-demand book. In short, I have a physical copy of all of my favorite parts of War and Peace that I can flip through, with my notes, but I don’t actually own a physical copy of War and Peace. 6
The generalized takeaway is that we're evolving a set of habits and language (once active and now increasingly ambient and passive)7 around capturing "real world" stuff — not just book or reading related — in digital space.
Some core differences between a captured or uncaptured — networked (in the context of open platforms) or unnetworked — action is:
The culmination of these qualities is a networked action ("I read", "I visited", "I saw", etc) on an open platform is persistent in a way totally different from its physical or closed or unnetworked counterpart. Each time we add an action to our public corpus, we perform a little act of faith ...
In part 3, we'll tie this back into Monkey Business and publishing platforms.