Making Digital Footprints

Last weekend I went ATVing in the forest with my daughter. We followed several trails, turned left here, then took a right at the next fork. I kept trying to memorize the trees and paths we followed, but when we turned around to go back, I quickly realized that I was completely lost.

Fortunately we had a compass to help find the nearest road (and were embarrassingly close to home), so we quickly get un-lost. The last time I’d been in that forest the trails were covered in snow, which made it easy to follow your footprints back. But without the benefit of snow it was incredibly easy to quickly lose your bearings.

But this is all just a clever metaphor…

Digital Footprints

We all encounter so much information in a day, and probably most of it is on screens. If you’re an “information scavenger” like me, you’ve probably had the frustration of trying to find a quote or article that comes to mind a few days after you digest it.

All this information, my friends, is like the forest. It’s easy to get lost.

When I first aspired to teach, I had great advice from mentors who told me to keep folders for collecting quotes, clipping, and stories, so that when it came time to prepare a talk, you had a collection of material to start with.

Obviously in the digital age, physical folders aren’t very practical, but there are lots of great tools to help create “digital footprints” that can be retraced when necessary.

Here are a few of my favourites:

My go-to bookmarking/reading/archiving tool is Pocket. As I come across interesting articles and videos throughout the day, I save them for later via their browser extensions and app (love that it’s browser and platform “agnostic”). Pocket has a beautiful reading layout, and simple tools for organizing and sharing interesting finds. Even if I read an interesting article on Medium or another site, I often save it in Pocket to keep a record of it for later.

Recently Pocket added a “Recommended” feature for sharing the things you’re reading. I don’t use the app as a “social discovery” tool yet (go ahead and follow me), but it provides alternative way of highlighting the important stuff.

Evernote is my digital notebook and scratch pad. If I find an interesting quote in Pocket, I’ll send it to Evernote. If I want to save something from an eBook reader (they all seem to limit copy/pasting in various ways), I’ll take a screenshot and save it in Evernote. While Evernote doesn’t make a great reader, it does a great job as a catch-all for any kind of media, text or web pages you throw at it. I even find myself taking photos of physical books to store for later in Evernote.

As a side note, almost every blog post and talk (when I’m re-tracing my steps) starts as a note in Evernote.

Twitter acts kind of like my “public digital footprint”. If I find an interesting quote, podcast, or article that I think others would appreciate, I send it as a tweet (kind of borrowing Craig Mod’s idea of Iceberg Tweets). When I’m re-tracing my digital steps, I occasionally find myself searching my own timeline for a quote that was a marker of bigger thought when I first came across it.

Those are a few of the tools I use to keep from getting lost in the forest of information I wade through daily. For more about digital footprints, check out Tim Ferriss’ interview with Maria Popova (creator of Brain Pickings and surely the master of reading and creating footprints) where they geek out about things like the difficulties of transferring Kindle notes to Evernote.

I’d love to hear how you track your steps through the things you’re digesting! How do you make your own digital footprints?