2 min read

Digital gardening?

Why write a "digital garden" as opposed to a blog? What is the point of digital gardening? Riffing on that post and its sources...

One answer could be that it is nicer for readers. It could be more convenient. If someone wants to find a specific thing you wrote, the digital garden format may make it easier for them to do that, especially if they don't follow your particular website closely. Fair enough.

I like the idea of writing to understand, research, or flesh out ideas. That means writing about ideas that aren't yet fully baked. From what I've read this is part of the point of a digital garden. But it's not clear to me how this is different from or better than a notebook blog on the writer's side.

Gardening preserves topics or lines of thinking. By default they remain visible the last place you put them, long past the date when you wrote them. That seems to me like a bug, rather than a feature. I'm reminded of "TODO systems" and the problems you get when you just keep adding to one long list or system of TODOs. It breaks down. Things get stale. You end up with things in there that have been in there for months or years. You eventually don't even want to look at the damn thing anymore. This is why you are supposed to do weekly reviews as part of Getting Things Done, although that is hard and nobody remembers. I suspect notes or lines of thinking may work the same way. I often lose interest in things and it wouldn't make sense to preserve everything I've written about that topic in perpetuity; gardening means I'd have to go prune it by hand, whereas reverse chronology means things vanish by default if I don't keep writing about them.

With gardens you also must organize and curate. With a blog you never have to organize anything. You write a post, bam, it's out there on the timeline. With a wiki style, you have to link it from another discoverable page if you want anyone to find it. That means having to figure out where to link it from. That sounds annoying and inconvenient for a daily writing practice. Maybe this is solved by including a chronological view in addition to the wiki-style view. That sounds like extra work, though – I don't expect the common "digital gardening" tools would support it given the apparent disdain for reverse chronology.

Digital gardening seems in conflict with itself. On the one hand there is a desire for curation. There is a desire for "non-performative" blogging. There is also a desire for rough in-progress work – working with the garage door up. "Non-performative" and rough in-progress are different, but both seem in conflict with curation in different ways.

Overall digital gardening seems to me like a bad deal. It doesn't obviously solve a problem that I have. I've written private associative notes before using Zettlr and while that can be sort of helpful, it's not obvious to me that there is a large extra benefit compared with reverse-chronology notes. It is more annoying since it requires this extra linking step. On the other hand, I think it is worth sometimes trying bad things. After all, I may be wrong. So who knows? I don't think I'll try it in the near future, but eventually it may be worth a try.