From Tome to Tumblr: find uncommon inspiration in a "commonplace book"

From Tome to Tumblr: find uncommon inspiration in a "commonplace book"

Famous quotes. Popular thinking. Trendspotting. Memes. Inspirational quotes. Long before there was social media, Tumblr and Pinterest, there was the "commonplace book" - a book in which 'commonplaces' or passages important for reference were collected. Both a habit and a hobby popular in Europe during the Enlightenment era (first usage recorded in 1578), these compendiums were popularized by deep thinkers - scholars, spiritualists, and scientists - as a way to capture wisdom for future reference.

To "commonplace" meant (and still means) to log in the knowledge gained at the moment of capture in order to process, memorize, compile or even re-interpret information thought to be beneficial at another time, unlike a travelogue, diary or personal journal. Enlightenment philosopher John Locke even wrote a "Commonplacing for Dummies"-esque book about how to organize and index your book; Locke was, after all, his generation's champion of introspection and observation.

Commonplace books were not just an early version of the "cut and paste".

Commonplace books were not just an early version of the "cut and paste".

Great minds like Einstein, Lewis Carroll, and H.P. Lovecraft famously collected, stored and shared ideas, images and "idle conceptions" not only for themselves, but for generations of modern thinkers to admire. From scientific theories to labyrinths and recipes, deep thinkers dig deeper when these bits of brilliance are revisited.

Today, many of us scrapbook or "commonplace" off- and online to make sense of the images or text or quotes we see and hear. Many use digital tools to make them searchable and organized - though some of us still prefer "old school" pen and ink formats. Hashtags (ex. #MotivationMonday) are simply a modern-day commonplacing index tool.

It is precisely the re-organizing and re-sorting that makes this wisdom even more interesting and colorful. Love Abraham Lincoln quotes? A quick search of #AbrahamLincoln or #Lincoln will bring new light to your studies. Search for #kiwi and you'll find out more about this glorious fruit than you ever imagined, from alternate names (Chinese Gooseberry?) to new global recipes. A hashtag is commonplacing in its most modern form; in this quick format, we see information in a new light. We gain perspective, insights and even new interpretations of what we thought we knew. Ask any hip-hop artist who samples music or a chef who re-imagines a classic dish: the next generation (Julia's Quiche Lorraine 2.0?) is always more colorful than the original simply because...

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
— Aristotle

Whether you use pen and ink or Tumblr app on your smartphone, try "commonplacing" to put in one common place your own collection of wisps of wisdom, and have fun seeing where the sum of the "parts" takes you.

Storyspace 3 - a modern writer's Commonplace Book for hypertext narrative

Storyspace 3 - a modern writer's Commonplace Book for hypertext narrative

Rapper Eminem famously penned "My Name Is" lyrics on whatever paper was available when the muse spoke. (credit: hiphopstan.com/forum)

Getting your head straight with Headspace

Getting your head straight with Headspace

Musings and Muses: The 2017 Tony Awards

Musings and Muses: The 2017 Tony Awards

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