Casey Newton delves into the limitations of current note-taking apps like Obsidian, arguing that they are designed more for storing information than for sparking insights or improving thinking. He suggests that while AI has the potential to revolutionise these platforms by making them more interactive and insightful, the real challenge lies in our ability to focus and think deeply — something that software alone cannot automate.

This is partly why I write Thought Shrapnel. Not only does it force me to actually read things I’ve bookmaked, but I make sense of them, and often make links to my work and other things I’ve read.

Note-taking, after all, does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place on your computer, next to email, and Slack, and Discord, and iMessage, and the text-based social network of your choosing. In the era of alt-tabbing between these and other apps, our ability to build knowledge and draw connections is permanently challenged by what might be our ultimately futile efforts to multitask.


In short: it is probably a mistake, in the end, to ask software to improve our thinking. Even if you can rescue your attention from the acid bath of the internet; even if you can gather the most interesting data and observations into the app of your choosing; even if you revisit that data from time to time — this will not be enough. It might not even be worth trying.

The reason, sadly, is that thinking takes place in your brain. And thinking is an active pursuit — one that often happens when you are spending long stretches of time staring into space, then writing a bit, and then staring into space a bit more. It’s here that the connections are made and the insights are formed. And it is a process that stubbornly resists automation.

Which is not to say that software can’t help. Andy Matuschak, a researcher whose spectacular website offers a feast of thinking about notes and note-taking, observes that note-taking apps emphasize displaying and manipulating notes, but never making sense between them. Before I totally resign myself to the idea that a note-taking app can’t solve my problems, I will admit that on some fundamental level no one has really tried.

Source: Why note-taking apps don’t make us smarter | Platformer