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There are Valuable Things in Your Notes
One of the good things about the current note tools is the ease with which we can collect new interesting items. One of the bad things is that it’s easy to capture new things, that are interesting in the moment and we never come back to. Sometimes it’s because we don’t need it, sometimes it’s because we don’t find it when we look through our notes.
Part of this can be alleviated if we spend more time foraging through our notes instead of defaulting to collecting new things into our notes. I understand that it’s much harder to dig through your notes and wrestle with the content contained inside them than it is to follow some random link to some new content that might be interesting. I fall into the same trap all the time.
With all the AI hype going around this is one spot I can see AI being helpful to those taking notes, spelunking through your notes when you ask some AI tool a question about your notes. Ideally, the AI would have access to your emails, text messages, browsing history, and all your notes and then connect the silos of data that contain everything you’ve come across.
Unfortunately, AI is pretty dumb and will leak your data. Not with a Bug with a Sticker is an entire book about how AI is dumb and easy to defeat. Not just easy to defeat for security professionals, but for pretty much anyone who spends some time thinking about how to get AI to leak data. Oh, and the leading experts (one of whom works at OpenAI of ChatGPT fame) don’t think that they’ll be able to secure AI any time soon due to the economic incentives for companies that sell AI.
See, there is a huge first-mover advantage. As someone gains traction with their tool, they get more data and their tool gets better. Then as it’s more useful more people use it and they’re in a virtuous cycle of getting better and getting more users.
Nothing in that cycle provides any economic incentive to slow down and make sure that your AI model isn’t vulnerable to attacks that make it racially biased, or leak data.
This vulnerability is why I still don’t let AI touch my notes. While much of it is writing and ideas pulled from books, I have an on again off again personal journal that is very personal. I have client notes in Obsidian that shouldn’t be allowed out of my control into some tool that has vulnerabilities that are just waiting to found and exploited.
Anyway, the allure of AI is mostly about people thinking they won’t have to do the hard work of thinking about their content and digging into it for connections. Thinking about my notes and the words I share is one of the most fun parts of what I get to do. It’s why I continue to write this newsletter and blog despite the lack of any type of financial viability.
One day I’ll likely use AI to get some writing prompts out of my notes, but that day is not today. Today I’ll finish this newsletter then spend an hour digging through my notes for more good content to write about.
Inspired by reading Personal Knowledge Graphs.
There was a time in society when the goal of work was to have time for noble leisure. Noble leisure is defined as something done just because you like it and it’s good, there is no monetary reward for it, and it’s not work. For me it’s the years I spent coaching cross-country for my kid’s school. It’s the investment I put into the local cycling club helping new cyclists learn the ropes of group rides.
I get as much benefit from the effort in personal fulfillment as the people I’m helping may get.
The idea that our goal should be to get noble leisure time is gone though. Now you’re lazy if you don’t work enough. When people hear that I bill 25 hours a week of work and take an extra day off every week all summer to work at the bike shop because bikes are fun, there are always some that scoff I’m not sitting down at all hours to earn money.
Society today isn’t set up for noble leisure for most people though. With income inequality on the rise and the cost of living increasing while wages stagnate, it’s hard to find time where you don’t need to earn money so that you can simply exist in the world and have food in your belly. Then if you’re part of a minority group, the odds are stacked against you from the beginning.
That leaves the idea of “noble leisure” as an idea that wealthy white people can aspire too, while most other groups of people just want to eat well every day and not be abused by their employer.
As a well paid white dude that gets asked questions about thinking time I can’t help but think that my answers are possibly meaningless to many. I’m not racially profiled in work which makes it easier to get jobs that pay well. That means I have to spend less time working and certainly don’t need a second job. I’m able bodied so if my programming career dried up I could move into the trades easily and get paid fairly well for my time.
How does my advice from a position of ease help a woman in a minority group that has had wealth systematically stolen from their family by society? How does my advice help a trans man that is being judged by their appearance the moment they show up to a job interview, instead of being judged by their work?
Maybe the best thing we can do to get more thinking time for everyone is to get political. To vote for candidates that support equality and social safety systems that don’t force undue burden on others to justify that they’re doing enough to be worth having food.
Technology is the active human interface with the material world.
But the word is consistently misused to mean only the enormously complex and specialised technologies of the past few decades, supported by massive exploitation both of natural and human resources. – Ursula K. Le Guin — Ursula on Writing: A Rant about “Techonolgy”
This point I came across after I wrote about noble leisure and AI above ties in well, specifically the mass exploitation that AI uses to make itself look magical. Thousands of low-paid hours have been used to train the model. Much like The Climate Book says about producing stuff for consumption of the Global North, these low-paid workers are barely scraping by producing stuff that they’re never going to use because they just want to eat. That’s another point I weigh in my use of AI, how are the people who made this thing work being treated…I don’t like the answers I’ve come up with so far.
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