advocating paper technology

In my previous PhD post I may have come across as a bit disparaging about paper. In fact, I think it’s wonderful stuff! You can write on it, draw on it, fold it. It’s cheap and it doesn’t need batteries. The problem is that it’s a poor way of storing any quantity of information that you need to refer back to in the future. Searching and copying are painfully slow and it takes up a relatively vast amount of space. A pile of paper(s) is not an efficient data structure.

On the other hand, a pad of paper is an excellent input device. Totally freeform, you can take it out into the sunshine, or wherever, and look like you are writing poetry or a novel. Your mental state changes when you are away from the computer. Your thinking becomes deeper as you break out of the stimulus-response reflex. This also gets you away from the PC and the many distractions therein.

Also, editing a documentfeels (and probably is) much more productive when you print out your draft and then attack it with red ink. Tip: print 2 pages per page if you know how, and leave the backs for additions. When it gets dark (or you get kicked out the pub) you can transcribe all your stuff into the computer which forces you find you to filter it again. As I take the changes I run them through with blue ink. Colours seem to make things more fun anyway.

At the end of the day I feel like I’ve taken a definite step forward rather than just tinkering with a file. Writing and editing on a PC is not as nice anyway. Scrolling up and down is slow compared to flipping to the next page and you know it’s not good for your eyes…

This blog entry started life on a pad.

Categories: PhD

One thought on “advocating paper technology

  1. Very interesting…

    Before getting my laptop a couple of years ago I have aways been a very paper based person and sometimes I regret having completely switched to the electronic support.

    One advantage with the paper is that is it slower to destroy than an electronic file. I still have pictures (of little importance but big sentimental value) on paper form that would have been destroyed by a simple
    “rm -rf thisexgirlfriendpicturefolder”
    would they have been on the computer.

    You are perfectly right on the fact that paper is a freeform input device. Choosing an efficient file format for long term archives is still an open problem for me. Between simple utf-8 text files, rft files, html files, pdf files, LaTeX files, Voodoopad files, Pages files, OmniGraffle files, Notebook files and all other programs that I have on my computer which store data in their (not always xml) own style, I am sometimes a bit lost. And when you add to the story, wiki databases, or wiki javascript (such as in TiddlyWiki) I end up needing an entire computer plus the backed up original installers or programs just to read my personal data.

    This said, the keyboard is a much faster way to input text, I would not have a weblog if I actually had to write down all my thoughts…
    … or maybe would it be better, with less entries of better quality 🙂

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