How can technology help us become better thinkers? - THINKERS Notebook

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How can technology help us become better thinkers?

"Back when I was on Twitter ... "

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to host a webinar for THINKERS Workshop members with Alan Jacobs, author of the book How to Think.

During our conversation, Mr. Jacobs uttered those words about Twitter while discussing the influence social media can have on the ways we think.

My immediate response in the moment was to think, "Gosh, wouldn't that be nice. To be off Twitter."

Your immediate response to me sharing that might be: "Okay, then do it. Get off Twitter. You have agency in the decision."

And you'd be right, of course. But the fantasy isn't always enabled by the reality.

I use Twitter as an integral part of the work I do. Plus there are benefits of learning and enjoyment that I extract from it. So while it's easy to focus on the obvious negatives, Twitter's overall effect is far from being all negative.

The most important question is: can I manage my use of Twitter to maximize its benefits while minimizing the negatives?

Said in a more specific way: can I use Twitter in a way that facilitates content discovery, more conversation, and better thinking while avoiding (or at least being aware of) its dangers?

And so it goes for all technology.

What is the optimal role for technology to play in the life of a thinker?

For anyone like you and me who is serious about becoming a better thinker, this is one of the defining questions of our time. 

The smart phone was a tipping point, putting immensely powerful and connected computers into all of our pockets, and the genie will not ever be put back into the bottle.

Nor should it be.

For thousands and thousands of years, human existence has been defined by our quest to develop new technologies that deliver desired benefits. And this has been a huge net gain for humanity. But it's also brought the accompanying need to manage both the foreseen and unforeseen consequences.

And as technological growth has accelerated over the last 15 years, and will continue to accelerate moving forward, we can expect there to be an increasingly direct relationship between this growth and what can already feel like a constant assault on our collective ability to focus and think clearly.

As thinkers, we have to recognize the positives and the negatives of any technology we're using, and then be intentional about maximizing the former while minimizing the latter.

  • Your phone gives you instant access to every news site in the world ... but also extracts a cognitive toll just by being in your pocket.
  • Your computer gives you the ability to connect virtually with anyone in the world ... but at the potential expense of ignoring your neighbors who live nearby.
  • Your smart TV gives you instant access to more entertainment and education options than you could consume in ten lifetimes ... but also can keep you inside on the couch when you might otherwise go outside on a nice day.

Which brings me to the release of version 3.0 of the THINKERS App -- an advancement in note-taking technology meant to maximize the utility of an app while minimizing or even eliminating the drawbacks.

Why a company dedicated to better thinking built a smart phone app

Seems like an odd choice, doesn't it?

I've spent countless paragraphs in this newsletter over the last year-plus urging you to put down your phone and instead grab a notebook and pick up a pen. So why would I now tempt you with another app that will draw your eyes toward the bright backlight of your phone?


Because the THINKERS App was designed specifically to leverage the elements of smart phone technology that can help you think better while minimizing the distractions that can harm your thinking.

We discussed this in detail in the THINKERS Manifesto podcast.

And there are three main reasons why the new-and-improved THINKERS App will help you become a new-and-improved thinker:

  1. You'll be emboldened to use pen and paper more.
  2. You'll never forget another good idea again.
  3. You'll never lose another good idea again.

Let's break each one down:

1. You'll be emboldened to use pen and paper more.

If you download and get into a new note-taking app, you might think you'd use pen and paper less. Not when the app was designed from the ground-up to be paper-first.

And this really matters.

One of the most common reasons I hear for why people don't use pen and paper to record their thoughts is that they want a digital copy. So why shouldn't they just go digital-first and eliminate the middle man?

That's fine. For some people it's preferable.

But most people think better -- clearer, more focused, and with better recall -- when they use pen and paper. So you're almost surely losing something by tapping away at a tiny keyboard (where distraction is just a notification away) instead of experiencing the brain-to-hand connection of writing.

We designed the THINKERS App to make capturing notebook pages easy, whether it's our own THINKERS Notebook or any other kind of notebook.

Notebook capture is front and center. This is the most important purpose of the app.

Heck, with the Quick Capture widget, it's literally a two-tap process from your home screen to capture a notebook page and have your digital copy stored for future reference -- with no keyboard required.

And not only is it stored on your phone, but you can share it with anyone and get their feedback on it. The idea may be born in your notebook, but it lives in your app.

Freed from the need to think it's an either/or proposition, more people can go the pen and paper route without fearing the inefficiency ... because there is no inefficiency.

2. You'll never forget another good idea again.

One of the other common reasons I hear for why people don't use pen and paper to record ideas is that sometimes a pen and paper just isn't feasible.

And I have zero counter-argument to this. It's 100 percent true.

Some of the places where our subconscious kicks into overdrive and we do our best thinking don't lend themselves well to pulling out paper and pen when inspiration strikes:

  • In the car
  • On a walk
  • Working out
  • Washing dishes
  • Taking a shower

So any app that purports to help you think better needs to have a solution for these moments too.

This is what was missing from the first generation of the THINKERS App. For those who upgrade to the premium version of the app, it's not missing anymore.

  • On a walk and inspired by the landscaping of a neighbor? Take a photo note.
  • In the car and struck with the perfect concluding line for the proposal you're writing? Record an audio note.
  • Touring a house and want to share the experience with your significant other? Record a video note.
  • Want a digital record of important documents that is transcribed for searchability? Take a document note.
  • At a meeting and want to share the whiteboard with other members of your team? Take a whiteboard note.

And yes, for you new iOS 14 converts, there is a Quick Capture widget for all of these capture types too.

Why do these additional capture types matter?

Because we live in a world now where so many human activities are being automated away. This means your ability to thrive is directly tied to your ability to have good ideas and do something with them.

But what good is the good idea you had on your walk if it doesn't make it back home and never gets shared? The THINKERS App helps you do both.

3. You'll never lose another good idea again.

Quick recap ...

Through the first two reasons, the THINKERS App is helping you come up with better ideas because 1) you're spending more time with pen and paper, and 2) you're recording more ideas because you're always just two taps away from getting it out of your head and into your phone.

But what good are all of these ideas and documents if you can't locate them when you need them?

We fixed that.

  • Want to reflect on the journal entry you made a year ago when you faced a similar problem to one you're facing now? That will take a while to find ... unless you've digitized your journal into searchable text so you can find it in seconds.
  • Have you ever tried locating a photo from six months ago in your photo roll? It's doable, but it takes longer than it should. A customizable folder structure and auto-tagging powered by machine learning fixes it. (And the app's location awareness can really help here.)
  • Remember the audio note from earlier that includes the perfect closing line for your proposal? Would you rather have to listen-type, listen-type, listen-type to transcribe it, or just copy/paste from the searchable text?

An ideas app is only going to be as useful as its ability to help you retrieve your ideas as quickly as possible when you need them. This is a core functionality of the new THINKERS App, and 98% of it is automated.

Add it all up, and we believe that the THINKERS App is the quintessential companion for the serious thinker. 

The THINKERS App doesn't exist to hijack and monetize your attention, which is where technology often gets in the way of good thinking.

Instead, the THINKERS App exists to be one trustworthy tap away when you need it to capture, retrieve, or share an idea. It exists to help you make better thinking routine. 

So please try it. We're really proud of it.

This latest version of the THINKERS App is the result of a full year of dedicated, daily work to deliver an app that actually follows through on its promise to help you think better.

A lot of technology actively works against you doing your best thinking. We're excited to be one of the exceptions to that all-too-common paradigm.

Click here to learn more about the app.

For those who are ready to download it and get going:

  • If you already have the THINKERS App on your phone, you just need to update it the latest version and log in.
  • If you don't have the THINKERS App yet, search for it in the App Store or get it at our website.

And if you have any questions about it, let me know.

Now let's move on to a quick update from the THINKERS Workshop and then this week's related links.

If you missed yesterday's webinar with Alan Jacobs, watch the replay here

Among the topics we discussed:

  • Why our social relationships have such a massive impact on how we think ... and the challenges and opportunities this presents.
  • Why it's usually disingenuous when we say someone should start "thinking for themselves."
  • How to find the right kind of people to help you think better.
  • The insidious power of Inner Rings.
  • Our growing propensity to view people as the "Repugnant Cultural Other," and what to do about it.
  • What role should emotions play in our thinking?
  • Where is the balance between being open minded and holding firmly onto foundational beliefs?
  • The importance of being skeptical about our own motives and generous toward the motives of others.
  • What is the impact of cancel culture?
  • Is Alan as optimistic now about our ability to improve our thinking as he was when he published How to Think?

Then next week, on Wednesday, October 7th, we'll have our third meeting of the THINKERS Book Club to discuss How to Think. The first two have produced fun, insightful discussions, and I'm sure this will be no different.

Want to join the THINKERS Workshop?
The THINKERS Workshop costs $99.99 per year (or $9.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get in free. If you haven't activated your free account, just reply to this email and let me know so I can send you the special link.
Now on to this week's links ...

How to be more creative because of technology, not in spite of it


Not every piece of tech will inspire you or spark your creativity, so you’ll have to spend time learning which technology tools would work best for you. For instance, you may find that TED Talks spark your curiosity and get you to ask interesting questions, or maybe you’ll discover that using headphones to create ambient noise helps you concentrate on the task at hand and think more creatively.

If you’re not sure what tools, apps or resources would best fit your needs, start by following tech influencers on Twitter, reading leading tech blogs like Mashable, Gizmodo and ZDNet, and taking advantage of programs or apps with free trials.

Read: 8 Ways to Boost Your Creativity With Technology (informED)

Think more about how technology impacts your thinking


The key is to define why and how we’re using what we’re using because unless we stop to clearly define the purpose of our usage before plugging in, the distractions that exist online can stop us from doing the work we want and need to do.

Watch: How To Use Technology Better in Your Learning (MetaLearn)

Be careful what mental activities you outsource to technology


You can’t expand your mind without some intellectual heavy-lifting.

There are tools that help humans to do that lifting. I recently met a teacher in Finland who uses fairly simple technology – such as Google Sheets and vlogs - to deliver content in his classroom. He casts his role as a coach to give pupils feedback on their abilities of perseverance, creativity and co-operation. The tech is in the background, being careful to leave the thinking to the students and teacher.

Read: How technology can help your brain work smarter (Time)
Quote of the week

Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers.”

-- Pablo Picasso