SXSW 2008 Reflection: Free association as a note-taking practice.

Or, don't take notes -- write poems -- use both sides of the brain.

I'm a good notetaker. I can type fast, do the amanuensis thing, and produce a near transcript. But I'm getting tired of the attention split that's required to listen and write notes. At this years SXSW Interactive my colleague Honoria Starbuck created notes combining watercolor painting and haiku-like text. She calls it live art blogging. Several of these are posted here, here, and here.

These paintings inspired me try taking notes by free association and writing haiku as the sessions unfolded. The results are below in time-reversed order by session (i.e., as you read down you move back in time).

Three things struck me about this process. First, by looking at these short poems I can remember exactly what the speaker(s) were saying. Second, by allowing my mind to respond associatively to the session I was able to listen and think simultaneously and create new connections. Third, because one and two above I feel confident that I will be able to recall the gist of the sessions just by re-reading the haiku. This, of course, is an empirical question about the future. I might be sadly disappointed by my actual recollections. I'm going to hedge this bet and add notes ... soon.

Here are the haiku:

March 11, 2008
Futurists Sandbox (2):
Your social footprint. / Or your ghost on the network. / You have to choose one.

Futurists Sandbox (1):
Copyright gone wrong. / Free culture movement; / Roller girl rescue.

Roll Over Gutenberg:
The New York Times web / Crashes; what will happen next? / We’re not pallbearers.

McGonigal keynote (2):
Happiness research. / Everyone wants to be happy. / Or maybe just safe.

McGonigal keynote (1):
Mobability. / Alternate realities. / Develop instincts.

Visualizing sustainability (3):
Bottom up. Bootstrap / New words for how we live. / I need to reach down.

Visualizing sustainability (2):
Show me the green / Look at the city’s worknet. / See my life cycle.

Visualizing sustainability (1):
Daily life data. / Virtual worlds; record / My footprints on earth.

Future of corporate blogs:
The right way to blog. / Respond to comments right now. / There is no buffer.

March 10 2008
True stories from social media:
Twitter is social / Tell me what you are doing / But please keep it short.

Internationalization panel:
Lost in translation: / It takes real work for global / Web conversation.

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Annex 1: My note taking process.

I listened until a word or phrase or sentence caught me. I wrote that down, listened further, waited for or sought out associated thoughts and words. Sometimes the phrase or thought had five syllables so it became the first or last line. If I had enough material I then began constructing the other lines. Some came together quickly. Some took longer. I used the rhythm of the session to force a finish. I look at this method as a way to capture ideas from a moment in the moment -- I don't think it would work to finish the poem later.

In fact, as I look at these haiku today I want to make changes in words and punctuation; I want better poetry. But I'll just leave them as they are -- my notes from SXSW Interactive 2008.

Annex 2: Another example of visual note-taking is Mike Rhode's collection of SXSW 2008 sketchnotes.

Update: couldn't resist adding the final syllable to an incomplete haiku. Sometimes rushing to the finish yields errors.

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