Nostalgia · Tech

Analogue or digital?

Typing up

It surprises me sometimes, given how much of a technology nerd I have always been, that I don’t mention computers more often on this blog. That might be because, for the main part, nowadays there’s not a lot to be done with them; oh, you use them more than ever, but there’s no tinkering, no adding extra RAM or changing the hard drive when you’ve a hankering for a bit more speed. You might buy a new case every now and then, or a keyboard and mouse because you’re going all fancy, but mainly you’ve got your computer and when it’s ready for the knacker’s yard you go out and get a new one.

Now would be a good time to mention that I haven’t got a new computer.

There was a time when computers were less ubiquitous and more exciting, yet the technology was sufficiently advanced to allow for reasonably powerful home computers. That was when I did everything possible on the computer. I used an amazing software package called “Personal Organizer” by Chronos. It had a calendar with the usual selection of views, contact details, task lists, a really good notes mode, and a journal section; one of the options was to display a day page which would show you the current status of all of those on one screen. For me, it made so much sense to have things closely integrated like that and I really loved that programme for a couple of years. With the advent of Mac OS X in 2001, Chronos lost the plot and it took them years to edge their way back to a stable product line. They abandoned all ideas of an integrated product to replace Personal Organizer, concentrating for a while purely on contacts software for marketing which was the area I was least interested in. Currently they offer several printing apps plus Notelife – a “premium note manager with a stunning, easy-to-use interface”.

Around that time, I also had a lot of fun with Palm devices which made my half-hour bus journeys to and from work more enjoyable as I could read e-books, compose e-mails which could be sent when I got home (not connected to mobile phone networks back then) and play with my calendar, notes etc. Palm provided a software package to install on the Mac which gave access to your calendar, notes, tasks etc on your main computer and synced via a docking station/sync cradle or infrared. Yep, you could connect the Palm with your computer by just pointing at it… so long as you had done the bit where you waved the device up and down, walked backwards and forwards and moved side to side until you found the exact spot from which communication was possible. That Mac software package wasn’t quite as well-designed as the Personal Organizer and noteably lacked a journal element, but it was still good.

My golden days are long past and digital life is easier, if somehow less fun, now. I have never fully accepted the need to compartmentalise all of the elements that used to combine so naturally in Personal Organizer; although they are only a tap, a swipe of the finger apart, I know that I am switching from one app to another and it irks me. I’ve kept my calendar/diary and tasks on paper for a long while now, although it feels natural to have my grocery shopping list on my phone. The urge to go ditigtal comes over me frequently, the convenience of carrying everything in a device that pops easily into a pocket or a handbag, the ability to slip my MacBook into its quite perfect little protective case and pop it into my Le Pliage tote bag, giving me literally everything I could want there with me. Yet I find things held electronically are easier to ignore than things written down in ink on paper which is surely just a quirk of my mind and not an unchangeable fact of human nature.

I’ve been reading a couple of interesting articles this morning over on The Sweet Setup about how Mike Schmitz has been transitioning from completely digital to a combined digital and analogue system which are interesting reads (I’ll link them at the bottom of this post if you’re inspired to take a look). I was struck by an item in the article about using Sketch-notes on the iPad because it sums up for me the two divergent paths our minds may take when looking at information:

  1. My entire library is on my device. I didn’t need to look through all my old notebooks on my bookshelf, and I always had everything with me on my iPad.

Information can be located either by a haphazard search, flipping through a conglomeration of data until the piece you want presents itself, or by a targeted search which allows you to zone in on only the most relevant items. This second is surely the ‘right’ way isn’t it? You get what you need quickly and efficiently and are straight back to the task in hand. This is the concept which all computer apps are designed around; they excel at it; they present all your information in a uniformly boring format and you are expected to navigate using search functions, tags, keywords and the like which you, naturally, assigned to the information when you created it. This is the kind of organisation where Chronos’ Notelife would come into its own.

The analogue world, on the whole, runs contrary to this; it is the disorderly, hit-or-miss realm where your search will take forever and you may never find the information you are looking for. I say on the whole because it is possible to organise analogue information in a way that resembles a digital catalogue, and there are people who have done this. However, I am interested in whether there is any benefit to keeping the information in an analogue format and surely the answer to the question is that looking through old notebooks on a shelf can take you down a path that you hadn’t planned, but which is fortuitously where you need to go. Information presented in a more random way allows your mind to dart, to select or discard, to find gems of relevance which no pre-programming could ever hope to unearth. When you look through your notebook there are changing colours of ink, minute variations in your handwriting, occasional words or phrases in BLOCK CAPITALS underlined with three bold strokes shouting “look at me!” It is inspiring and seductive in a way a list of entries on a screen cannot hope to be.

In all truth, it is not even a case of analogue versus digital, as it is now so easy to capture handwriting on the screen of a tablet or to scan and store your hand-written notes. Information displayed as a list may be uniform, but if you view the documents as thumbnails instead your screen might provide more visual stimulation. The crux of the matter is the willingness to sometimes amble through your information rather than always running a targeted search. It’s like being in your car and seeing all the things beside the road as you travel from A to B rather than inventing the teleport and transferring from the start to the end of your journey in the blink of an eye.

Do you do digital, or analogue, or (as I suspect a large number of us do) a combination of both? And whichever you do, do you ponder on the possibilities offered by the other?


The Sweet Setup blog

Building My Bullet-Journal-Based Hybrid Productivity System by Mike Schmitz

A Guide to Sketchnoting on iPad (using GoodNotes) by Mike Schmitz