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TECH TALK: Read the fine print

A new marketplace may require you to start using new tools to track relationships. Here are some explanations.

Editor’s note: Besides following developments in tech, our author is also a musical composer (Juilliard-trained), He has provided a musical composition for you to listen to while reading this column. This piece, titled Slapper Saexly, is played on guitar, bass and drums. It is a high-energy piece, which seems appropriate for the subject of this week’s column.

When you come across a deal that seems incredibly advantageous, such as a luxury vacation for a fraction of the price or a brand-new smartphone for free, have you ever pondered over the business model of the enterprise that’s offering it?

When the price tag seems surprisingly low for what you’re receiving, it’s likely that you will actually be paying a high price but you will be using a different currency. You will be paying with your personal time or your personal data. The result can be invasion of privacy or even identity theft. In the realm of broadcasting media like television, radio, or podcasts, the data will likely be used to target advertising more effectively at you. And while platforms like Facebook or tools like Google seem to be free, they are likely harvesting your personal information and reselling it for high prices.

So, when you think things are too good to be true, you have to read the fine print. Even when you think you do understand what you are getting yourself into and what their model is, read the fine print. We live in a significantly manipulated society where it is often easier and less painful to avoid the “deals” and pay an appropriate price for the goods and services you acquire.

Business models may seem like an exotic subject that you don’t need to think about, but we have left behind our agrarian and even industrial roots and now live in an information age. The marketplace is a new one, where a small number of giant firms thrive on their ability to operate on a massive scale. They make big money by capturing your time or your information.

There seems to be an assumption that bigger is better, and this is not at all true when it comes to quality—not the quality of food, medical attention, or culture. In these situations, bigger is distinctly worse and often a lot worse.

Again, read the fine print. Many of the relationships we enter into turn out to be quite different from what we had imagined. We do need to pay attention to details, and there are so many of them that we will soon need more than a pad and pencil to keep track.

Tracking relationships between bits of information may require you to explore new tools. There now exist many different note-taking and capturing applications, and here are three features that would be awfully hard to get in the old-fashioned way.

You might want to link notes in the way library card catalogs and footnotes work, where references are pointed to. We have all experienced hypertext linking. Wikipedia uses hypertext linking to take you to other pages. So does The Berkshire Edge, as we will demonstrate later in this article.

But have you considered bidirectional linking? That’s when you create a note or a record that links to something else, and then that something else also points back to the original place.

And, as a third approach, have you considered notes or records that, in addition to being linked as hypertext, are also linked visually, such as in a diagram that shows which of your ideas is connected to other of your ideas?

Authors, researchers, and students are now routinely doing this third approach. There is even a name for it: PKM, or personal knowledge management. These systems, with graphical interfaces showing visual relationships between entries, are light years beyond things like Evernote and Apple Notes, which will also undoubtedly evolve.

People who are using these programs to create Personal Knowledge Networks (PKNs) say it is like creating a second brain.  I have personally tried many. I admit they can feel like black holes for a time, but they can also keep thousands of separate entries instantly available to you. Imagine a network with thousands of nodes where you can zoom in and out to specific individual nodes or notes.

I have entered over 8,300 notes into my PKN or personal knowledge network, which runs on the Day One app and am getting ready to migrate to Obsidian which offers bidirectional graphic linking to greatly improve navigation. (Please note these two examples of hypertext linking.)

I encourage you to consider creating a second brain—it’s all the rage.

But, don’t forget. Be sure to read the fine print.

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