On Keeping a Notebook in the Digital Age

April 13, 2013 •

Elizabeth Spiers over at Lifehacker has some interesting thoughts on reasons to keep a physical notebook:

For those of us comfortable with the digital age, the plethora of note-taking apps makes idea capture fingertip-convenient. I’ve used Evernote for work purposes and keep most of my idea files in Google Docs. But that said, my first medium for idea capture is still pen and paper—usually in a highly disposable three-by-five paper notebook that I carry everywhere and fill up at a rate of about one a month. This is partly a function of immediacy (I don’t have to open an app and find a file) and partly a function of the fact that I’m terrible at typing on a smartphone and it takes me longer to get the words down if I try to do it digitally.

This is a good reason to prefer paper. Whilst apps like Drafts do make it easy to quickly capture (and later process) text snippets on iOS, there is still a delay between thought and capture.

But I also like the romance of physical handwriting, even though my atrocious penmanship falls somewhere between “five-year-old” and “average medical professional” and this sometimes means I’m unable to decipher pieces of what I wrote. I concentrate less when I’m typing and my first drafts often have missing phrases because my fingers have failed to catch up with my thoughts. Writing things down enforces slowness, and by extension, thoughtfulness.

This romance, the nostalgic desire to use paper and pen, is probably one of the most compelling. Despite writing from a productivity context, there is something enticing about the feeling of abandoning systems and processes, and just capturing ideas like people have done for hundreds of years.

My main issue with keeping a paper notebook, as I’ve mentioned before, is the fear of losing something. Without the powerful searches that are ubiquitous in our digital tools, what might happen to those thoughts?

This ties back to the romantic aspect of the notebooks - locking thoughts away in a notebook, waiting to be liberated.