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Monday, April 9, 2012

Paper vs. Electronics: Sustainability and Longevity

Last week I had a very interesting conversation with someone younger and much more technologically inclined than I am. The main topic was why anyone in this technological age would choose to use a paper planner instead of an electronic one.

After all, an electronic planner on your device is much more convenient, right?  Well, no, in my opinion. I know battery life is getting better, but having to plug in would still be a major issue for me, especially while traveling. Also, I know you are supposed to back up your info on your computer, but even taking that into account I've heard too many horror stories about people's devices locking up/ going dead/ being dropped in the pool and whatever else, causing them to lose all of their info.

I also don't like having to go screen to screen to enter a note or appointment. I want to open my book, write it in, and know that any time I open my book for ever after that it will still be there.

My techie friend asked me if I or Plannerisms readers feel bad about chopping down trees to make paper planners. I was really confused by this question. No, I said, because trees grow back. They are a renewable resource. Especially if the trees come from a well-managed forest, or the paper is made from recycled materials, paper is very much a sustainable material.

The conversation moved on before I could point out that the same is not at all true for electronic devices. The metal, plastic and rare earth minerals used in electronic devices are not renewable, and are dwindling in supply.  So if you are looking for a "green" option, paper is definitely it.

Later I went on to explain that a big reason why I prefer paper planners is the long-term record keeping. People have been writing on paper, clay and even lead for thousands of years, and it's these writings that record day to day human lives. Hundreds of years from now there will be a huge gap in our history of this time of things that are lost to technology. Remember floppy disks? Do you still have access to information you stored on floppies? And that was just a few years ago. Technological information storage evolves so quickly that much is lost as technology moves on.

But my friend's reply was, "What about the internet?"  I didn't understand this at all. He seemed to be implying that the internet is permanent.  I doubt that people 50 years from now will read about their grandparents' lives by reading our blogs on the internet. Undoubtedly technology will be vastly different by then, and the information that's currently on the internet will be lost or inaccessible. Unlike paper, of course, which can be read for hundreds of years.

It was a very friendly conversation, and he was honestly curious so it was in no way a debate over the merits of one or the other. But the whole conversation left me confused. I know I'm from a different generation than he is. He doesn't remember a time before computers so it must seem very permanent to him that the internet and electronics always have been and always will be the way to record information.

I take a longer view: Paper and other forms of writing have been the way human history has been recorded since the beginning, and only tangible forms of record-keeping will survive decades and generations into the future.

What do you think?


  1. Everything on the Internet is shared. Everything in my planner belongs to me.

    1. Exactly. Also, I feel like the internet knows way too much about me already. I don't need it knowing where I'm going to be later and the details of my schedule. Somebody probably sells that info to marketing companies.

  2. I worked as a cataloger in libraries, when we catalog web pages, we describe the content as it is today. Unforgettable unfortunately, the content can and often does change, so suddenly your catalog record is useless. Similarly, when a researcher cites to digital information, there is no way to know if it will be the same information at that specific location in the future. I see these questions as things which will need to be addressed.
    While I agree that electronic planners can go haywire, paper is just as bad, as it is so easy to lose! I end up copying my work appointments from my filofax into my email calendar at work, personal appointments into my dodopad at home, and my contacts into work and home rolodexes. This is a great deal of work.
    One major reason I use paper is because I'm much more disciplined about how I manage paper. My electronic calendars are a mess. My phone has numerous duplicate contact entries (some resulting from syncing errors...) with different information (one may have home and cell numbers, another work and email, yet another the mailing address!)
    I'm also much better at capturing details on paper. When I've attempted digital calendars I just don't put much in them, and certainly don't write quick daily summaries of what happened each day! Just too hard to type up...
    I enjoy writing and receiving letters, especially as email becomes increasingly commercial and business oriented. I don't want my personal correspondence to be rushed and housed together with my Amazon purchase receipts and my work stuff. It's too special!
    I grew up with technology, but am old enough to remember living in a house with no computer and do not see Internet as a total requirement. I could live without it. I could not live without paper!

    1. I'm trying to get the best of both worlds. Advantages of internet and being digital: immateriality (is that a word in English?), accessible from anywhere (given internet access), easy to copy/paste and change...
      And i loooove pen and paper, i'm much better at planning on paper than digitally and i just enjoy it. I store all my music and movies digitally (pictures is a given), I have my work calendar on Outlook (and copied in my Filo), my 'moodboards' on Pinterest, books read or wanted listed on Goodreads, my contacts on my phone and the important ones copied in the Filo (same for addresses). I'm more comfortable using the paper version because i don't wait for it to load, it won't crash, and because there's this familiarity (like i know my aunt's address is in the top left corner written in purple behind the F tab... online i'd just look up with her name, how boring ^^). The copies online are in case i lose my Filo, or don't have it with me but have internet access.

  3. At my job, we have floppy disks on our conference table, to use as coasters. It's funny how long it takes people to realize what the disks are there for, or to see the brief look of terror on their faces when I set my coffee mug on top of it. It's not crucial data - it's a coaster!

    1. Sis that's hilarious you use floppies as coasters!!! I wonder what secrets they hold. Unfortunately no one will ever know, they are partially melted from your hot coffee cup! LOL!

  4. I, too, am a librarian. The tech librarian even, and I still use a paper planner. I find that I remember things better if I write them down. I need the reminder in an electronic calendar but if I've walked away from my phone or computer then I don't get reminded. Glancing at the electronic calendar in the morning doesn't work for me. Plus, I've had several electronic calendars get erased from the server, stopped working or did that terrible duplicate entries thing. Still I use both since I work where people need to find me or know what I'm up to for meeting planning. It works for me to have a paper calendar and for them that I have an electronic calendar. It's not an either/or thing for me.

  5. A long time ago I read a sci fi novel where all info had gone digital--and then humans had lost access to the Internet. Books still existed but no one knew about the card catalog and so it was back to trying to figure out how to forge steel, etc. It doesn't sound so farfetched when I think of all the info permanently lost on floppy discs. Yes, I use a thumb drive and have some photos on a server, backed up on cd, but I look at the box with actual photographs of my parents and grandparents and wonder about the future.

    1. mstraat I'd love to read that book if you can remember the title! I think about that sometimes, what would happen to humanity if suddenly we didn't have electricity, or even just access to computers?

    2. There is a book about losing electricity called The Alien Years, by Robert Silverberg. It wasn't that good. The one that haunts me is actually a series of four books by Dan Simmons; the first book is Hyperion, then The Fall of Hyperion, the Rise of Endymion, and Endymion. Simmons is a cross-genre writer and supremely skilled as well as literate. Yes, in addition to questions about access to human info, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering, these books involve the poet Keats as suggested by the titles. Awesome books but scary ideas.

  6. I agree with most of the above replies, and I also want to add that there is something very special about the paper planner.

    Think about all the great paper documents preserved in museums (notebooks, plans, whatever). Because they are paper, there is a real, tangible connection to the person who wrote them. Even if I hold an old notebook of my late grandfather's, I feel a connection to him because 'this is something Grandad held'.

    How many times have you gone to a website and clicked a link to some article or other, only to find that you get a 404 error and the link is dead? That kind of drives me nuts.
    Even if you look at the website of a newspaper or television station, the article you're looking for has often moved or been deleted as early as a week later.

    I like to look at the planner I had when I was in grade 9. As with my journals, I can see the kind of mood I was in based on my handwriting at the time. Maybe I'm just sentimental about paper.

    1. GG this is a huge thing for me. Like you said, knowing the person held that book gives a wonderful feeling of connection. And seeing their handwriting reminds us of the moment their hand held the pen and created those words.

      A few years ago I was lucky enough to go to London's Natural History Museum to see their temporary Darwin exhibit. I'm a paleontologist, so this was an enormously huge deal for me. My very favorite part of the entire exhibit was his notebook on display, open to the page that says in his scrawley handwriting, "I think:" and a diagram of his first evolutionary tree. I can just imagine the moment that thought was born in his mind and flowed through his hand into his pen and out onto the paper. That is an historical object.

      And excellent point, so often entire websites or pages go all 404 on us. The internet is far from permanent!

  7. Right now I'm sitting at work and as our server has died, the whole office can't work for at least few hours. We are trying to figure out, what can we do without our emails, files, etc...and we can't think of anything. This is kind of terrifying. We are not able to work these days without our electronic devices.
    Also, few months ago I manage to get my granma diaries, which she wrote just after war. Reading those was the most incredible experience of my life.
    So as for me....internet is great, electronic devices are great, but paper rocks :o)

  8. I personally prefer using a paper diary (Filofax) because I can see a week at a time, which I can't do on my mobile phone. If, for example, I need to make a hair appointment in six weeks' time, I can just flick along six pages and see instantly what time slots I have available. Try doing that with a mobile phone!

  9. It is surprising even in 2012 that there are people who do not use any form of computer or the internet, and they aren't pensioners, they fall in to an age range just a little bit older than me to a younger than me I suppose.

    It's an age range that that didn't have computers at school. And they are all happy with a postal address or a Fax or telephone number.

    I love to see the look on peoples faces when I pull out my Filofax flick straight to this week and glance down the page and start writing in an appointment or a to-do, it's just so much quicker than doing the same thing on an i device... which I also love and own... but I don't use them for storing contacts or appointments or my journal on.

    The cloud solutions for keeping stuff safe and synced have improved over the years, but the speed of entry is the downside for me.

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