5 min read

Write plain text files 书写简朴的文本文件

聊起笔记工具,Markdown、双向链接、个人数据库,这些耳熟能详的特性,对大部分人来说到底能用到多少。
Write plain text files 书写简朴的文本文件
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

最近一直在思考,工具的意义和所谓效率的提升究竟是何种关系。
在美院读书的时候,陈丹青和我们说:文革时他去画画,仅仅是为了能享受画画这件事,而刮刀在油画布上辗转时,有一种工具的快感。
随着越来越多的工具和软件走进我的生活,我发现“工具快感”占据了自己很多精力。这并非说有什么不好,一个支持Markdown、能实现双向链接、建立个人数据库的工具,在某种层面上一定能够提升效率。但当这种对于工具的执迷压倒实际所书写的内容时,我开始怀疑生产力究竟是否得到了强化。当我折腾了一个又一个笔记软件却迟迟未开始体系化的写文章之后,我开始严肃的反思这一点。
人对于“工具强化”的追求是普遍存在的,这就是为什么很多朋友在做到坚持跑步之前,先要置办一套相对专业的装备(我就是这样一个彻头彻尾的失败者)一样。工具会产生快感,但我也需要提醒自己不能本末倒置,工具不是目的,只是手段。


以下为原文转载,一切版权归作者所有。
如有条件,请阅读原文。


I write almost everything important in my life: thoughts, plans, notes, diaries, correspondence, code, articles, and entire books.

They are my extended memory — my noted self — my organized thoughts. I refer to them often. I search them, update them, and learn from them. I convert them into HTML to make websites, or LaTeX to make books.

My written words are my most precious asset. They are also a history of my life. That’s why I only use plain text files. They are the most reliable, flexible, and long-lasting option. Here’s why.

PORTABLE

I’ve brought my text files with me since 1990, from Mac to Windows to Linux to BSD, from PCs to laptops to tablets to Android to iOS to a tiny device the size of my thumb, and back again.

Every device, including ones long gone, and ones not invented yet, can read and edit plain text. Whether future virtual reality, or a chip you can implant in your earlobe, plain text will be there. Will Microsoft Word? Evernote? Notion? Maybe. Maybe not.

But plain text? Always. Everywhere.

UN-COMMERCIAL

Every few years a new company says you should use their special format. You have to pay them a monthly fee to use it — or keep all of your documents in their care. They offer some convenience or features, but at the cost of flexibility, portability, and independence.

When you store your writing in one company’s unique format, then you need that program to access it. Then the economy takes a turn, they go out of business, and your work is trapped in an unusable format.

You will outlive these companies. Your writing should outlive you. Depending on companies is not an option.

Plain text is un-commercial. It removes you from the world of subscriptions and hype. There will always be plenty of free, non-commercial software in the public domain for reading and editing text files.

OFFLINE

There are places and times when you can’t get online. Don’t depend on any tool that needs an internet connection.

There are great benefits to being intentionally offline and unreachable, to focus. It’s a super productivity boost. You need to be able to write, and have access to all your writing, during these times.

NO DEPENDENCIES

If you rely on Word, Evernote or Notion, for example, then you can’t work unless you have Word, Evernote, or Notion. You are helpless without them. You are dependent.

But if you only use plain text, you can use any program on any device, forever. It gives great flexibility and peace of mind.

EASIEST TO CONVERT

Plain text can be converted into anything else.

HTML, Markdown, JSON, LaTeX, and many other standard formats, are just plain text. I’ve written four books and four hundred blog posts in plain text.

You can make your own personal formats in your plain text files. Maybe in each diary entry, the first two lines are like:

date: 2022-02-28 tags: where-to-live, kids, dog, anxious

Then it’s easy to use any little scripting language like Ruby, Python, or JavaScript to grab the date and tags, and use them for categorizing, sorting, renaming, archiving, or exporting.

Or if you don’t want to do it yourself, then it’s easy to find someone who can. Anyone who’s been programming for more than a week should be able to do it easily.

NEED HIERARCHY?

Use directories — also known as folders. These are also good for keeping your text together with other files like images and audio.

Documents/ Documents/Diary/ Documents/Diary/2022/ Documents/Diary/2022/2022-02-28.txt Documents/Thoughts/ Documents/Thoughts/WhereToLive/ Documents/Thoughts/WhereToLive/2019-06-30.txt Documents/Thoughts/WhereToLive/2020-01-18.txt Documents/Ideas/ Documents/Ideas/MusicalChairs.txt Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/ Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/Design/ Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/Design/entryway.jpg Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/Design/roof.jpg Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/Architect/ Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/Architect/JM_Lim.txt Documents/Ideas/NewHouse/Architect/TPS_Inc.txt

NEED VISUALS OR GRAPHICS?

Need visual mind-mapping with circles and lines? Maybe you do. But maybe you don’t.Maybe it’s just another distraction, focusing on the tools instead of your thinking.

I love that plain text files have no formatting to tinker with. A tab key, SHIFT KEY, and vertical line breaks can go a long way, keeping you writing instead of formatting.

If you really need graphics, do your drawing using something else. Digital drawing into SVG files. Paper drawing, scanned into JPGs.

Formats that aren’t owned by any company. Formats that will outlast you.

Keep your graphics files alongside your text files. But keep your text as plain text.

CONCLUSION

Reliable, flexible, portable, independent, and long-lasting. Plain text files will be readable by future generations, hundreds of years from now.

I especially enjoy the tranquility of their offline, non-commercial nature. They’re quiet. They’re focused. (As I aim to be.)

screen shot of the text of this post

© 2022 Derek Sivers
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