I finished a fascinating book yesterday entitled The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The subtitle is "What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain", but it not just an anti-Web tirade. Mr. Carr chronicles the history of man's quest to communicate and how the changes over time (invention of the alphabet, printing press, etc.) impacted culture. As he explores the development of the Internet, he brings in relevant research about the inner workings of the brain. I honestly couldn't put this book down, and there are many topics he introduced that I want to explore.
One thing that caught my eye was his mention of the use of "commonplaces" as a help for memory and thought. These were basically what we might call journals -- notebooks for recording quotes, ideas, or questions about what a person was reading. The idea of recording these sorts of things was suggested first (as far as we know) by Erasmus in 1512. Because of his habit of writing down excerpts from things he read, he was able to memorize an amazing amount of classical literature.
This amazing feat of memorization was not what grabbed my attention, though. It was the connection between the habit of "journaling" and the creation of thought. Taking time to write down quotes as well as responses to ideas begins the process of thinking deeply. In fact, Francis Bacon wrote that working consistently in a commonplace "supplies matter to invention".
Today there are beautiful notebooks available in bookstores everywhere. Sadly, most of us don't have (or take) the time to sit and write down much beyond a to-do list. However, I do think we've kept the idea of the commonplace and transferred it to a digital format -- the blog! As I've perused blogs over the past few years, I've found myself gravitating to those that are more like commonplaces. I enjoy reading snippets of reading, hearing another person's reaction to or questions about about what they're reading, and following the comments that often serve as a sort of conversation about the ideas.
So be prepared! I have a lot to process from Carr's book, and I'll be doing some of that here. If you enjoy being part of the process or conversation, pour a cup of tea and join me.