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Life in Text

by spelk on April 29, 2020

The road to capture Life

I’ve been trying to tame my chaotic digital life for quite some time much of it tied into novel ideas turned into costly dot coms, todoist, trello, evernote etc.

The one thing they all had in common was that my data was in their systems and it gave them some sort of hold over it. Some bargaining power to use against me, should I ever try to stop paying for their services.

None of this gave me a sense of security as I was laboriously entering my entire life into disparate online pay-walled repositories.

They offered me convenience. They offered me mobile functionality. But I couldn’t easily tie them all together. In a single simple to use interface and get at the data immediately. I had to wrangle with various user interfaces, various hard coded functions that they deemed useful, rather than have any flexibility in the way I said was useful to me.

My most precious information was scattered across the deserts of the Internet and I could never seem to update it enough, or make it ultra useful to me.

As services change their functionality, often streamlining once more extensive features, to appeal to a more mass market, I would lose keys paths to accessing the data. My data. I hit a wall with Evernote, in that I no longer wanted my over zealous web capturing to be horded away in various interface quagmires. So I found an open source alternative to Evernote and started the exodus. That alternative was Joplin.

Joplin App

Joplin was a good solution to my problem, but the way it stored its data in a lot of very small markdown files made syncing it very slow.

Fortuitiously I stumbled upon a methodology known as org-mode introduced in a GoogleTech Talk by Carsten Dominik (2008).

Carsten Dominik orgmode presentation 2008

I watched this video all the way through and was amazed at what I was witnessing. A plain text file, structured to afford almost magical functionality when viewed in org-mode in Emacs.

It was a dream come true.

I immediately set out to learn how to use this Emacs editor.

The structure of plain text


Emacs was a culture shock to begin with. I was used to the more modern text editors. Or should I say more traditionally CUA compliant editors. I’d travelled a long journey through text editors over the years, from Boxer/TKO, HomeSite, EditPlus, Notepad++, SublimeText, Atom, EmEditor to name a few. Some were more customisable than others, but none were truly extensible to what I was seeing inside of Emacs. And it scared the hell out of me. I was once again lost in a world of personal configuration (when you don’t know what is possible), lisp, melpa archives and using org-babel and an org file to contain Emacs configuration itself! In my mind, true wizardry!

I took it steady, and my baby steps into learning what org-mode could do, meant I learnt just enough to get by and still marvel at the org-mode.

Why Emacs? ‘Editor MACroS’



This powerful text markup allows me to capture everything in structures that are meaningful to me, and in a format that is still human readable and easily converted into other output formats. The collapsing outlining heirarchy is perfect for structuring all sorts of data. I cannot stress just how much org-mode has affected my digital life, it has given me a textual palette with which to paint my most important data into text files with real value under my control.

I am writing this static blog post using org-static-blog.


I even wrote a presentation on org-mode and used Emacs and org-present to give a talk with it.


Emacs/Org-mode Resources

The more we capture the more we know.

Org-mode becomes your “exo-cortex”.

“Organise your life in plain text”

Some of the more helpful resources I found invaluable in my journey: