People once copied quotations longhand of writers they hoped to emulate. Can copying and pasting inspire us just as well?
So, about commonplace books. Commonplace books became widely used in the early modern period, largely because literate people were discombobulated by the flood of information that the printing press had unleashed on them. (One 17th-century writer wailed, "We have reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.") Some of these were just scrapbooks, the predecessors of today's Everything Buckets, as Alex Payne has called them -- applications like Evernote or DEVONthink -- and would be places to store recipes, notes from sermons, remedies for common maladies ... you know, everything.
But the other kind of commonplace book was different. Its goal was to gather a collection of the wisest statements, usually of the ancients, for future meditation. And here the key thing was to write the words in your own hand -- by this means, by laboriously and carefully copying out the insights of people smarter than you, you could absorb and internalize their wisdom. Call it osmosis-by-handwriting. (Some people would copy out whole books by their favorite writers in the hopes of achieving some kind of voodoo transference of power.)