Because yesterday I indulged in bit of complaining, I decided to follow my own advice today: “If you have time to complain about something, you have time to do something to solve it.” Or at least to take a few steps in the right direction.
So I decided to pick up the reading service with the most robust note system, Instapaper, and look for solutions to improve that functionality.
The service itself has an integration with Evernote that supposedly copies highlights and notes directly to the application, but there are problems:
- Evernote is very inconsistent between platforms. The web application, for example, is slow and does not allow for smooth note management.
- It does not always work. After activating the integration, I made several notes and highlights that never showed up in my Evernote account.
I ended up with the following solution: I used IFTTT (a free online service that acts as a bridge between several applications) to establish the following rule: whenever I make a note or highlight something in an article in Instapaper, IFTTT sends me an email with the highlight and the note.
From there, it’s a simple matter to copy the content directly to my favorite notes app.
Is this a somewhat contrived system? Yes. Would it be better if Instapaper – or a competing application – let me copy the notes directly? Yes. But doesn’t. It’s better to find a solution, however imperfect, rather than keep complaining.
Painting: “The Wounded Philoctetes” by Nicolai Abildgaard
Incredible as it may sound in a medium that remains heavily textual, reading on the internet is still a third-world experience.
Yes, there are tools to save us from eyestrain. Tools like Instapaper or Pocket or Safari’s reading mode help us organize content, remove the (usually terrible) stylistic choices of websites, and present the articles in a way that’s far more readable.
But that’s just a part of reading, it’s most basic form. To read seriously – to read in order to understand, to assimilate, to learn – we must highlight, note, and cross information. The previous tools only do well the first of these three things; those who grant the ability to make notes do so in an impractical and limited way.
When I read an eBook – whether on Kindle or Apple Books – it’s the simplest thing in the world to email myself a collection of my highlights and notes, to easily browse or copy to a notebook.
Why is it so difficult to do the same for articles on the internet?
Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight cc
Kevin Costner’s is one of the profiles that I enjoy the most in Tim Ferriss’ penultimate book, “Tools of Titans” (where he compiles the best parts of several years of interviews).
At less than two pages in length, it’s one of the shorter profiles, but I think the editing is masterful; the short text perfectly encapsulates one arc in the actor and director’s personal life.
In one of the first paragraphs, he tells us how he almost died in a car accident, but left the destroyed car in the middle of nowhere, and hitchhiked to the audition where he was due. He didn’t get the part, but he tells us that it was then he finally realized this was what he wanted, that it did not matter what the world and his family thought about his choices.
In one of the last paragraphs, the actor recounts an exchange he had with his father, many years later, after having already achieved the success of world stardom. His father laments, in a heartfelt way, that he had never taken any risks in his life. That he held the same job for all his life because he wanted to know that “there would always be food on the table.”
The only thing his son could tell him was: “And there was. And there was. “
Sometimes we avoid taking risks not because we are cowards, but so that those who follow us have the opportunity to take them.