In Electronic Age, Retreat Can Be a Healthy Thing

How nothing can replace paper and pen for keeping one Kirkwoodian's life in order.

About 10 or so years ago, my friend Laurie bought a Palm Pilot. I had heard of PDAs before but until she bought one had never seen or held one. It was very appealing. She used a stylus to make her calendar entries, it was small enough to carry in her back pocket if needed, and it only cost about a hundred bucks. I remember thinking at the time, this is way cool, but I really love my calendar book.

I didn’t keep a personal calendar, or appointment book, until I had kids. My life just wasn’t that busy. I went to work. I went home.  Then I had kids, and when they started having a busier social life than me – gymnastics classes, play dates, preschool picnics, but also doctor and dentist appointments – I had to buy an appointment book to keep track.

At some point, I realized that although I had never kept a journal (some writer I am!), this collection of calendar books was a good archive of my life as a young mother.  At first I didn’t throw them out because I knew I could rifle through earlier years to find crucial phone numbers and other important information, but eventually I kept them as a document of my life.  I visualized my kids thumbing through them in 50 years, captivated by reading about their own early life experiences. I had accumulated about 10 books when I purchased my first smart phone in 2008. It was also a Palm product.

I loved that phone. It was small and fit easily in my back pocket. It had a user-friendly calendar and a qwerty keyboard, so I could text my kids using my thumbs. Today I use an Android phone with a calendar that is cumbersome and a touch screen (and predictive text) that makes me want to pull my hair out. I love that I can get my email on it (all three accounts), that I can post Facebook updates from it, do Google searches, and find my way via its GPS software, but texting is no longer any fun, and it simply does not work for me as a calendar.

I have, therefore, reverted to using an appointment book. As a writer, I have always loved the feel of pen on paper and so am always on the look-out for the next great pen. Steve Jobs will turn over in his grave, but there is something deeply satisfying about the uniquely human and tactile experience of scratching ink onto paper.

Of course, for long writing tasks, such as this blog post or the novel I have been writing for years, there’s no substitute for a computer, and believe me I know. I began my writing career on a 1927 Underwood Standard.  But for shorter compositions, such as notes, calendar entries, lists, post-it reminders, etc., there is nothing better than pen on paper. I have friends who make lists on their phones, but I have never enjoyed that.

We live in an online world where we can pay bills, talk to friends, read books, and even sign legal documents electronically, and I understand that in some ways and for some of these things, there is no going back (I LOVE online bill paying, for example). However, just as there is no substitute for face-to-face time with friends or the feel of a good book in your hands as you excitedly turn each page, there is simply nothing better for me than scrawling and looping letters across a page with a great pen in an awesome color (hot pink, today).

I guess my kids will have even more to look at when they uncover these books after I’m gone. And that is way cool.


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