Anyone who has made heavy use of technology over the last couple of decades has probably experienced that moment when they were either forced by circumstance or invited by nostalgia to pick up a pen and write something on a pad of paper. Perhaps they were taking notes, or they were writing down a phone number or performing some other kind of mundane task. In every situation, they all probably had the same feeling when they completed their work.
It’s quite disorienting to imagine that after all the trillions invested and all the magical devices manufactured, that technology remains far too technical. There are things a human hand can do with a pen and paper that are still beyond the capabilities of even the most expensive mobile phones and computers, and this is despite the power and ubiquity of touch interfaces, instant worldwide communications and tremendously powerful processors and memory capacity.
What are some good reasons to keep that notebook around? Here are a few to consider.
Human beings have the ability to incorporate vital information in what most other devices on Earth would consider crude scrawlings, but which humans call diagrams. To date, there are no widely available commercial software applications available to create simple diagrams and embed useful information in them. Want to sketch a map of your backyard so your movers know where to put the patio furniture? Try making that happen on your phone in the time it takes to grab a pen and draw it. What app would you even start with?
The lowly diagram is a prominent example of how inadequate computer interfaces can be. Even if you are an experienced user of technology or even if you happen to be a mobile app or software developer, you aren’t going to get that diagram done on your device in the same time it takes you to draw it. You’re also going to have a tough time sharing it with anyone unless you coordinate your efforts through a fairly long conversation and even then, whatever you try isn’t likely to work.
Quick Business Contacts
Most who routinely meet new people as part of their profession are used to having business cards they can hand out. This is true even in the 21st century, where almost all business interaction and communication has at least partially moved online. The business card somehow survives. Have you ever wondered why?
Consider what you have to go through in order to share your contact information with someone you just met. Suppose you are out of business cards and you want to exchange e-mail addresses, social media information or perhaps just phone numbers. There you both stand with your handheld supercomputers that can communicate in 19 languages and there’s no way to get a simple phone number from one phone to the other. Once again, if you have pen and paper you can exchange numbers in a fraction of the time it takes to noodle through all the confusion on your phone. There’s a lot more info on business uses for notebooks.
Passwords and Account Numbers
Even the most inattentive security consultant on Earth would blanch if you suggested you store your passwords and account numbers on an electronic device. Instead, you write them down on a piece of paper that can’t be hacked or intercepted from your electronic device. Isn’t that right?
The first electronic computer was put into service in 1945. The personal computer was invented in 1981. The iPhone was invented in 2007. To date, there still isn’t a good way to put two documents on a screen at the same time without immense fiddling. Reading from one document while writing on another has been the bedrock of education for more than 1000 years, yet for some reason, computers neglect this capability with an almost obsessive consistency. If you have a piece of paper and a pen, however, you can perform this basic function effortlessly.
There isn’t a mobile phone or tablet user alive who, if confronted with the words “battery life,” won’t sigh and launch into a tirade about how their device is constantly on the verge of winking out because they can’t keep their battery charged. One would think with the massive batteries installed in tablets, this problem would have at least been partially solved by now, but alas, even tablet and e-reader users complain their batteries don’t last long enough.
Pens and paper require no batteries. They will work anywhere and they won’t lose your data because you forgot to plug them in.
Try typing a mathematical formula into a word processor someday. What you end up with isn’t even going to remotely resemble what’s in your textbook, and that’s assuming you don’t accidentally press the backspace button at the wrong time and destroy all the formatting. Even if you are a veteran of electronic typesetting and you know how to use packages like TeX, you’re going to need some time to get it right. Pen and paper have none of these issues. You can make your formula look exactly like the book without consulting the documentation for 20 minutes on how to incorporate the right font package.
Contracts and Bills of Sale
Despite the decades’ computers have been in use, there still isn’t a reliable, legally valid way to sign a document electronically. You might rely on commercial or supposedly legal solutions only to find out whatever decision you made isn’t enforceable. Typing up a bill of sale is perfectly reasonable on a computer. When it comes time to sign it, however, you’ll be able to print and sign it in moments. Trying to find a way to do the same on a computer could take days and at least one visit to a lawyer.
That scrap of paper with the initials on it is probably a legal contract with far more weight than all the electronic documents you can muster. More than a few expensive and even landmark legal cases have been decided based on a set of initials on paper.
The simple pen and paper aren’t out of business yet and based on the direction of the technology industry, they aren’t likely to be deposed any time soon. Keep one handy. You never know how much you’ll need it until it isn’t there.