Sunday, January 4, 2009

Softfile and Luhmann's Zettelkasten

Some time ago, I wrote about recreating A Faithful electronic version of Luhmann's Zettelkasten. It just occurred to me that Softfile could be used to reproduce the three different kinds of links between records in his card index.

These were:

1. The series of links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... where every new number indicated a new topic or subject.
2. The series of links 1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 ... (or 2.1, 2.2 .... etc.) where every new number indicated a continuation of the previous record, and
3. The series of links 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d ... where every new number indicated a branching off from the original topic.

The three series could then be combined in various ways to make for the infinite internal branching capability of the memory machine, like (or 2a, 2b ... or 1.5a, 1.5b ... or 7.10.1a3 ... etc.)

Softfile can easily make pages of the sort 1, 2, 3. It can also easily "attach" record 1.1 to 1, and 1.2 to 1.1, etc. And it can "link" 1.1a to 1.1, or 20a1.43b to 20a1.43 (or any record to any other record).

Even Luhmann's conventions are more or less preserved. The first two types of links appeared in black at the top of the record. And the third type would appear in the body of the text in a different color, namely red. (In Softfile they will be blue.) Descriptive headings could be added to any number as well (like like "Kommunikationstheorie" to 20a1.43b, if one found this desirable).

It's not for the faint of heart, and I don't think it necessarily adds anything of significance to the ability to link records in a database product like Softfile, which automatically takes care of the unique number of any record, but as an experiment in applied anthropological research of the late twentieth century it might be useful.

I remember having to fashion in school primitive Faustkeile (stone hand axes) to get some feeling for how people in the Stone Age made their instruments. The idea was never that we should use such an implement in daily life. In the same way, this entry is not meant to encourage anyone to use this approach in their own note-taking.

Come to think of it, I don't want to discourage anyone from doing it either.

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