No, you shouldn’t and if that’s all you came for, go read something else.
If you want to find out why I don’t think the book is worth your time, read on.
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Points I Agree With
While I’m not going to recommend you read this book, Scott does have a number of points I can get behind.
First, most people take notes for the sake of taking notes and don’t focus on shipping things1. Just last week I did some coaching and the person was looking for a magic system that would ship things for him. Just like every other person I’ve coached, the answer was to schedule time to ship and put yourself on a shipping schedule (much like this weekly newsletter). There is no magic system, and most people don’t ship stuff. They say they want to, but they want to have shipped stuff, not do the work day in and day out to ship things.
Second, people aim for a perfect system because shuffling notes, and toggling plugins, and watching YouTube videos about taking notes feel like work2. Shuffling stuff around is easier in a digital system, so it’s easier to fall for the fallacy of shuffling as productive.
Third, people take notes on everything at first and most of those notes should never have been taken3. This is the same trap people fall into with task management systems. They write a bunch of crap down that they wish they’d be able to do (secretly knowing they never will) and then their task manager gets overwhelming and they drop it because there is too much noise. This is why systems like Bullet Journal thrive in a digital world. When something is too hard to migrate to a new page or notebook, you just said it’s not worth doing and you let it go. Bullet Journal is a no-first system. The default is that stuff doesn’t come with you and you have to do work to move things. Digital is a yes-first system, everything will keep coming with you no matter how trivial.
I can get behind Scott’s idea that handwritten notes force stronger selection because they take more work to work with4. This is why I start my book notes in a notebook before moving them into Obsidian. When an idea feels like too much work to write down, you just told yourself it wasn’t valuable enough.
Fourth, the more time you spend processing ideas the better you know them5. Scott says that because it takes time to write down your ideas and then file them you spend more time with them so you know them more. I see this with the people I’ve coached, they take notes and then never revisit them so they have no idea what’s in their notes. As I tell every single one of them, when have you scheduled time in your calendar to review your notes? Do it, then do it again, then follow the random paths you find linked together.
If you work your notes, digital or paper, you’ll know your notes better.
Fifth, almost every time your graph view looks pretty and makes you feel like you’re doing something…but it’s utterly useless6. When I see people posting their graph view my first question is, how did you use the graph view to provide value to your thinking this week? When I’ve asked this question, I almost never get an answer that is useful.
That doesn’t mean the graph is useless though. I used mine early to find that I had done little reading on racism and identified it as a node of knowledge I needed to expand my reading on. I dip into my graph view once a quarter with the intent of finding nodes that don’t connect well or are single branches so that I can expand my knowledge of them.
Some people may feel I’m about to be a bit hard on Scott here, but after watching many of his videos and reading his emails where he talks about how well cited his work is going to be because he’s done so much research, I believe he’s earned these hard questions about the words he uses.
While there are lots of citations7, Scott has a number of ideas that he states and just leaves out there with no citations. He says that digital apps produce stunted thoughts8. He says that when you move communication to digital tools you water down your thoughts and strip them of individualism9. There were a number of other ideas Scott brings up without citation, though it’s possible that the idea was supported by one of the books he read or some research he cited. I did try and stop to figure out what supported his idea outside his own thoughts many times and continued to come up wanting. The two ideas above are fairly big so I’d love to see citations on them to even begin to believe them.
The premise of the entire book is that Scott is going to show readers that handwritten Zettelkasten is the best and truest version of the way you should take notes. Then he has a fairly passing reference to a paper that shows you retain information best when you use the note-taking system you prefer10. I’ll give Scott credit for even citing this study, but he doesn’t do much work to interrogate that idea and why he doesn’t believe it. He spends lots of time deriding digital note systems though.
Another point that Scott comes back to regularly is that history’s greatest minds used analog thinking systems11. This is clearly true as there is much more writing and thinking was done before we had any type of digital system available to thinkers. I could also say that history’s greatest minds didn’t drive and that was the key to their intellectual insight because cars haven’t existed for so long that this is obviously true.
I Just Couldn’t Finish It
It’s very rare that I don’t finish a book, but when my wife starts asking me why I’m even bothering to read a book and I don’t have a good answer outside…I guess I should read it because the author is making waves…it’s time to put the book down and stop wasting my time.
There is just so much to fault in Scott’s book that every other page I was scoffing at the ideas and citing his own contradictions. He talks derisively about note people just selling you stuff12, while you’re reading the book he just sold you on how to take notes “best”. He doesn’t look in the mirror and say that he too sent multiple emails to launch the book because:
- It’s coming tomorrow
- One hour and you can buy
- It’s selling out
- Sorry you missed it, stay around to get notified
- Oh actually, check out Kindle
He doesn’t talk about his application only Neo-Intellectual Institute, which doesn’t seem free when I’ve heard him talk about it. Scott is engaged in the same things that he’s telling you make other people talking about notes fake, without noting his own inauthenticity. It’s easy for the readers to get Scott’s feeling that he’s better than that because he doesn’t have a course to sell (but don’t look at his Institute).
Around 80 pages in I was already struggling to read the book. Scott repeats over and over how he took 3 weeks to read a single paper from Luhmann to really draw out the best insights. He talks over and over how he’s spent a year reading about taking notes, and no one else has spent this time or gone back to the “proper” sources as he has.
Every author has this type of stuff in their book. It’s usually in the introduction and I always call it the “why you should trust me” section. It’s maybe 2 or 3 pages, but often a paragraph. Somehow Scott managed to spread this out to 80 pages though as he tries to explain the current landscape of Zettelkasten, and why he’s uniquely endowed to talk about it because of all the work he did.
The first three chapters could have been one chapter. They probably should have been the introduction.
He also spends so much time explaining what Luhmann did, but then tells us he doesn’t quite do what Luhmann did because he hasn’t seen the need for parts of it13. If you’re going to engage in calling people out for interpreting the “source” then maybe you shouldn’t be throwing parts out that you don’t see the need for. Scott spent entire chapters talking about why it’s so bad people threw stuff out and why it harms their note process, then does the exact same thing.
Should You Read Antinet Zettelkasten by Scott Scheper?
No, you shouldn’t. Scott has a few good points in there, but they’re so buried by self-congratulatory verbose writing that you’re going to spend at least double the time you should spend to get Scott’s good points out of all the chaff he threw on the ground, and out the window, and covered himself in. From reading through responses to his book on Reddit, when challenged on his writing style Scott was adamant that he wanted to make it “conversational” but all he succeeded in was making the book way longer than it needed to be. Scott needed a hard-headed editor that would have helped him make his points in a more concise way.
What Scott is really engaged in is a religious argument. As he tells readers, over and over and over, he spent the most time reading the text. He went back to the sources best. Because he went back to the sources he has the best interpretation of them and we should listen to him.
Religious communities have done this for generations. Forget the King James Version of the Bible, it’s a bad interpretation of the original text and you should be reading the NASB. Actually, you really should read the original Hebrew and Greek if you want to properly interpret the texts. Now to do that you must understand the culture at the time so you can figure out what the little nuances of the text would have meant to the writers. You likely need an advanced degree to understand the culture the best though, so if you don’t have it, maybe you don’t have the authority as someone who does.
Scott spends 90 pages telling us he did the best work to get to the sources and that everyone else missed the boat. Though, I’m fairly certain he didn’t read the German. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t spent years studying German academic culture so that he can form his own opinions on why Luhmann did what he did and wrote what he wrote. He read interpretations from the best scholars he could find on the subject.
So if we follow Scott’s ideas to their core, we shouldn’t read his book, we should go closer to the source and read the originals. At least we should read the scholars that Scott cites in the book so that we can come to our own interpretation of what Luhmann would have done and see if it matches up with what Scott’s interpretation says we should do.
But Maybe You Should do Antinet
Despite my not recommending the book, I can stand behind using notecards as a physical constraint in your note process. Physical constraints are excellent ways to help you prioritize what is important and if notecards help you avoid merely collecting information and shuffling it around, go for it. Physical constraints are why I use a notebook to start my book notes.
I’m never going to knock a system that helps you accomplish your goals. To learn it, I guess go with Scott’s YouTube videos because the book isn’t worth your time.
There is no link to this book because you shouldn’t read it.