I’m (not) going paperless

NOTE: I’ve gotten a bit of push back for the use of the word “you” in this post. Some have pointed out the presumptuous nature of the word. I think they are right. While I concede that, I do want to maintain that “going digital” has screwed many of us up. I’ll try to be a little more careful next time.

Second NOTE: Upon further reflection, the presence of the word “you,” the most common objection, was used as a literary device and, I think, fully appropriate. While it is always beneficial to be aware of one’s communication tendencies, I will also choose to assume a high level of self-awareness on the part of readers and will hold them responsible for their own interaction with whatever text they are reading.

I’d like to introduce you to my new Midori Traveler’s Notebook. It’s really a pretty beautiful thingy, this notebook, and it represents my return to organizing my thoughts, tasks, and schedule using pen and paper. I got the “radial datebook” and little modification inspirations from Patrick at Scription.

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I tried for a long time to be a digital boy. I am obviously a fan of technology, but I have found that I do better when I’m writing things down by hand. About two months ago, I tried out another digital system. I bought a tablet that had a stylus you could write with, but… Oh, the balls I dropped. I needed to go back.

Here’s the thing: There is real and there is not real. Pen and paper are real. Digital is not.

Digital is bits and bites. It’s an idea. It’s an abstraction. when something is created digitally, it doesn’t actually exist. I think this was the essence of my problem. When I tried to work solely with a digital workflow, I think my subconscious knew that what I was manipulating wasn’t actually real. And this is saying something, coming from an abstract guy like me.

But the pen and paper… Those are real things. Sure, they may be symbols of other things, but they are real. My to do list can never be deleted. It can only be completed. I can’t erase something, only cross it out.

This is a spiritual thing for me, dealing with the real. My life – your life – is too full already to deal with things that aren’t real. What’s the point?

I know, I know. Some of you will claim that you do “just fine” organizing your life digitally and that I should stop acting like an old fogey and go back to being the “open source guy” who celebrated technological innovation. The thing is, open source is about making sure things work.

Friends, there’s a whole lot of us doing things that aren’t working.

I don’t believe you when you tell me that you can organize your life digitally. I know you, and I read about your stress all the time on Twitter and Facebook. I see how much stuff you try to cram into your day. A lot of you are cranky because of it. I know I am when I try to live by the digital code. It sucks.

So here’s what I want you to do: On Monday, instead of firing up your OmniMuiltiThingFocus program to start the race to see how many boxes you can click, just ask yourself “What are three things I need to do today?” Write them down on a piece of paper or a note card and do them. One at a time.

Cause, really, most of you reading this are pastors, and the people you serve deserve to have a servant who models daily Sabbath and simplicity. We all know you’re good enough and capable enough, but we’re tired of you modeling unhealthy behavior.

Psalm 127:1-2

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
   those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
   the guard keeps watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
   and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
   for he gives sleep to his beloved.

10 thoughts on “I’m (not) going paperless

  1. Landon, did you print out the Chronodex calendar yourself, or did you buy it? It looks professionally printed and bound. I’ve been looking at this system to see if it’s something I want to use as more of a diary of sorts (I like my iPhone calendar, it works for me, but I’d like to be able to record meetings and things to refer to later).

      • That was my question, if you had it printed or printed it yourself. It looks professional with even edges. I’ve played with it in the past, but I guess my mind is too linear cuz I can’t do it. Yet, I find it fascinating none-the-less and keep coming back to look at it. Ha ha!

  2. I have regular bouts of digital/paper conflict. But the paper and pen are abstractions too, just on a different level. Both paper and smartphones are media to represent real commitments; they both mediate reality. But they have different biases, and what I think you’re onto is that digital is biased less towards real commitments in real time with real people than is paper and pen. I buy that.

    But I need my digital calendar to share it. Because digital is biased towards sharing moreso than paper. That’s what walks me back from buying a cool red Moleskine planner. For me the trick is learning the best use of the digital organizing tools (Springpad checklists, for example, for each day, rather than a rolling list of tasks).

    I’m glad you’re thinking about this stuff, though, because most of us aren’t. We’re just using the digital stuff because it’s bright and blinky.

    • Yes, I think I am, indeed, thinking more about the biases than anything else.

      I’m just struck by the fact that that which is intended to make out lives easier mostly makes them harder because we don’t understand the tools we’re using. I think it might be time for my own theological reflection on “Program or be Programmed.”

  3. All due respect, but I will argue that my iPad, macbook pro, and iPhone are “real” and the digital work-flow I have developed is not complex, nor is it stress inducing. When at a meeting with a financial advisor yesterday and setting up a new college fund for my son, a to-do list and moleskine notebook (I have two moleskines, btw) would have been useless in gaining access to the information I needed at that moment. Dropbox and an iPhone, made the task almost magical.

    We can decide to complicate our lives, and to get stressed by organization, or we can just do it, find what works, – and focus our time on getting stuff done. For me, it is a digital workflow – and it has improved my teaching, my organization, and my research. The combination of mac and iPad together have revolutionized how I work.

    Plus, with my iPad, and I want that tactile sensation that comes from writing pen on paper, I use UPad and a stylus. Its my hand-writing, its the same process as writing on paper. BUT I can save it – and integrate it into my workflow.

    People do not need to go paper-less, but it is no less real than using pen and paper.


    • Likewise, I have found that Evernote is essential for the functioning of my life.

      This was an experiment for me in working something out like an extrovert. 🙂 Rocky has helped me to refine what I’m after – the bias of digital “stuff.” Just like my generation was taught the biases of television, I worry that no one is teaching people the biases of information technology.

  4. I appreciate the biases of information technology for sure, one of the issues that i have is the filtering of our news, so that we end up getting a narrow perspective on the world.

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