The Allure of Plain Text (for me at least)

As for me, I will use plain text.

YouTube showed me a video the other day by a user named No Boilerplate titled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Plain Text.” The video itself was quite well done and interesting and got me thinking about using Github as a project tracking tool. But it also got me thinking about how useful plain text is. Now I won’t go as far as saying it’s the ultimate tool or something like that.

In the past I used to spend a lot of time in Word, Libreoffice, or Google Docs. And I still rely on these tools for editing and collaboration. But for the past few years I’ve been using variations of plain text almost exclusively. For a while it was markdown in Vim, then org mode in Emacs (in Evil mode of course), and now I use markdown in Obsidian. (This journey is a story for another time.) Some might say that markdown and org mode aren’t really plain text because they include formatting instructions. But the syntax is so simple you can easily overlook it (or mentally interpret it) so I think it still counts.

There are many advantages to working in plain text, but these advantages may not be as strong as they were in the past. People have argued that writing in plain text removes distractions, and I can see that in a sense. But then again I work in Obsidian, which presents many opportunities for distraction. I have used full screen mode in Word and Google Docs for writing and it worked fairly well. And I tend to not get distracted by font choices like some do.

Text files are also smaller and lighter than docx files, but computer speed and storage is so great now that this doesn’t matter as much. Text is also readable with just about any application, and I can even read a text file with command line tools like cat or less. But applications have a fair degree of backwards compatibility built in and there are conversion tools. And if you aren’t keeping files in a readable format you aren’t maintaining an archive… you’re hoarding.

Despite all this I will continue using markdown and plain text. And a big part of this is aesthetic. I like Obsidian and markdown. I like the power its plugins give me and I like having everything in one place. So for now I will use one tool for research, note taking, and writing. For me, markdown gets the job done.