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On Reading

Tiago Forte recently did a video on using ChatGPT to summarize books. He correctly cites that it’s time consuming to read books and write good summaries of them, but then I think he misses the mark.

First, he highlights 8000 words in the book he’s talking about which, as he says, is far too much of the book to be useful. This is specifically why I write out my book notes by hand in a notebook. If an idea isn’t worth writing down because it feels to hard, you’ve already filtered out the idea as not worth keeping.

As I started reading Knowing What we Know this week I encountered that effect many times in the prologue of the book. Simon Winchester is looking at how “knowledge” and our understanding of it happened in antiquity. He cites Socrates and Plato and many other sources, which I would have highlighted in the digital copy of the book thinking that I was gaining knowledge simply because something was interesting. When I was forced to write it down and read the section again the only thing I wrote down was a question about what was happening in philosophical discussion outside of the Greek/Romans around the same time.

We always default to Plato and other philosophers of his ilk, but I rarely read anything cited by someone that most North Americans wouldn’t look at as “similar but older”. What about Asian thought? What was going in in Africa, or South America? Surely Plato was not the only person in history to that point to have these thoughts, he’s just the person that white people cite.

Next, once Forte has summarized and then bullet pointed his 8000 words down to something he considers manageable, it’s time for the robots to come in which I feel misses a crucial step as well.

According to my site I’ve written and published 238 book reviews at this point. The writing portion of those is a crucial step in understanding the book, as crucial as any of the notes or highlights I would make earlier in the process. During writing I reorganize the ideas into a flow that feels logical to me. I scrap ideas and I look at the other books I’ve read that support the ideas more.

I often realize that I don’t understand an idea and go back to the book to dig into the idea again so that I can explain it. Sometimes, I do understand it better, sometimes I realize that the author said nothing and I should drop the idea as something of worth.

Using ChatGPT skips the step where you challenge the idea that you understand anything about the book. But heck, ChatGPT is fast so it’s obviously good.

Forte also skips the step where you have to fact check ChatGPT because it makes stuff up. So now you need to get ChatGPT to show you it’s citations and then check out each citation to make sure that the author did in fact write this, and didn’t just make up the citation.

When you see any article or video about ChatGPT that sings its praises you must remember that Ai just the machine learning we’ve been hearing about for years. Silicon Valley has dressed Ai up[1] and is pushing it as the new hype now that Blockchain is tainted with so much scandal that people can’t minimize how much of a ponzi scheme it is. With Ai being the current tech hype darling, any content or video on it gets views.

Anyone on YouTube (myself included) is in the business of getting views so you watch ads, and hopefully purchase their products so that can eat. This isn’t a bad thing, my kids eat in part because you watch my videos or become members, but that does mean you need to be suspect of content praising whatever the tech sector is currently pushing.

Finally, Forte isn’t only barely in the business of helping you have good ideas. As I said when I wrote to members about The PARA Method (this is now open to all), I thought the book was terrible, until I started reading it assuming it was a book about productivity. Once you realize Tiago’s work is about productivity in a knowledge based economy, not how to have good ideas and the time it takes to have them, his work is worthwhile. The hard part is, most people view his work not as productivity porn but as content that should help you think good new thoughts and make new connections.

So, if you want to have book summaries with maximum time saved the video is great. If you want to do the hard work of sorting through what you read for good ideas and then really dig into them so that you understand the ideas and know if you agree/disagree with them, don’t bother watching it.

On Thinking Time

Over the last number of weeks my writing about getting time to think has turned into about 3000 words, which for me puts it well on its way to becoming a short book about the topic. To finish it off I need to do more research back into the ideas I’ve read before on, and transfer stuff like the content above into something that’s a bit more generic so that the book has more of a timeless quality.

On that note, here are some of the books and articles I’m going to go back to with my research.


The Obsidian importer will now import Apple Notes. I’ve talked to many people that are stuck in Apple Notes and just can’t leave the system. If this is you, then know that what you get out of the Obsidian importer is just markdown so you could take it to any platform out there.

Something Interesting

I have nothing interesting this week since I was on vacation and didn’t read anything about the wider world. I went on a hike with my wife, road my bike, painted bedrooms, and mostly hung around doing little.

Yup I use affiliate links sometimes to support the newsletter. If it’s on Amazon, it’s an affiliate link for sure.

  • [1] Ai is just the hype cycle that caught on this year. Remember at one point the Metaverse was the next big thing: https://www.itpro.com/technology/artificial-intelligence/breaking-the-ai-hype-cycle