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Paper more productive? I beg to differ!


Michael over at pigpog,com, recently upped an article discussing why he considers paper to be a more productive medium than an electronic alternative. It’s a thought provoking article as he gives a number of good reasons for sticking with paper. However as a paperless advocate I consider it my duty to respond to the points Michael has made and also provide a few reasons why I think a paperless option can be more beneficial in increasing productivity.

Pigpog says - Faster: No matter how nice your laptop is, by time you’ve got it unfolded, powered on, started the software you want to use, made a note, and closed everything down and put it away again, you could have made the same note on a bit of paper in your pocket, and been on your way for several minutes. Paper is a great way to keep quick notes

I agree with this to a point but Michael’s example uses a laptop as an equivalent electronic ‘note taker’ which is a little unfair (especially when the ‘example’ laptop is being booted from cold - a laptop in sleep mode ‘fires up’ in seconds). A laptop is of course totally inappropriate for on-the-fly note taking. That’s why I carry a Palm PDA which is up and ready in as much time as it takes a ‘paperphile’ to turn to a blank page in his/her notebook. Palm software (sorry I’m only familiar with Palm) such as Slap makes the process of taking notes quick (if your familiar with David Allen’s GTD concept then think of Slap as a capture inbox) and if the Palm PDA doesn’t have an onboard keyboard, input can be made quicker by installing an application such as Fat Finger which makes the onscreen keyboard larger eliminating the need to use a stylus,. The whole process of note taking on my Palm is quick and effortless. Additionally once entered electronically the information is right at hand and available for transfer to wherever the information is needed. There’s no need to root around afterwards in a pocket to find the bit of paper that a particular note was written on (but I’m sure a more organised ‘paperphile’ like Michael uses a Moleskine or similar for his notes :o) ). 

On a side note the task of ‘on-the-fly’ paperless note taking is perhaps best suited to a UMPC. You get the benefits of having a fast loading machine and a bigger screen which more successfully facilities the task of ‘inking’ handwritten notes – a process which is inherently difficult on PDA with its hindering smaller screen.

Pigpog says - Feeling: Paper just feels different to using a computer. Some find it worse, but most find it better for quick notes and thinking.

Well I can’t argue with this one Michael. Paper has that kind of comforting tactile feel that certainly can’t be (yet?) replicated electronically. On the blog My Internet World the author, in his article Will Paper Soon be a Thing of the Past?, mentions that his readers have suggested that one of the reasons e-books haven’t really taken off is because people like the feeling of 'the pages in their left hand getting thicker as they progress through the book and the sadness as those in their right hand get lighter' and this is a part of 'real' book reading that I too really miss. With regards tor writing many people who own TabletPCs or PDAs report that they find it hard getting used to writing on the screen due to the surface being too smooth. Some have addressed this by using felt nibs or screen protectors which gives back a bit of the ‘roughness’  feel associated with writing on paper but I think ultimately if your are intent on being paperless then you have to get used to engaging your ‘touch’ sense with a less satisfying medium. Michael definitely wins this round :o)

Pigpog says - Less Breakable and less expensive if it does break: If I drop my Tablet PC on the concrete floor whilst making a note, I’ll be very upset. I’ve dropped my Moleskine notebook down the stairs at home, and couldn’t find a mark on it.

Again I can’t argue with this point either. My only defence is to suggest that if someone is stupid enough to drop a TabletPC or similar onto a concrete floor then they maybe they shouldn’t be looking at a paperless option. I agree accidents do happen but they can be minimised by being sensible and a bit more wary when operating expensive electronic gadget in areas or situations where accidental damage is most threatening. Perhaps the biggest damage potential to paper comes from water and water is just as deadly for electronic counterparts. However TabletPCs ad PDAs can be successfully waterproofed with things such as Otterboxes whereas paper doesn’t really have much in the way of waterproof protection (aside from putting it in a plastic bag :o)).

Now may be a good time to quietly slip in the inherent power consumption problem that electronic gadgets have in comparison to paper (surprised Michael didn’t mention this one). Every task you perform whilst using an electronic device uses power and this of course can be a disadvantage as the battery drains. However if a good power management strategy is in place i.e. using the device’s in-built power saving features, carrying spare batteries and/or an AC adapter, then any power related issues can be more of less eliminated.

Pigpog says - Less Obtrusive: A bit of paper feels more sociable. Making notes on an index card or bit of paper doesn’t make people think you’re ignoring them in the same way as a laptop or even PDA can. Maybe because they aren’t wondering what you’re doing - they can see what you’re doing.

Not sure I agree with this I concur that laptops specifically can create a bit of a barrier between people but the low profile footprint of TabletPCs, PDAs and now UMPCs eliminates any suggestion of obtrusion. Additionally I don’t consider the act of making notes on a laptop etc. to be indicative of ignoring someone (although I know a few naughty students who spend lecture time surfing the web…more the fool them).  Quite the reverse I think note taking on a laptop etc. suggests to a person that the information they are providing has more value as it is being stored electronically for long term preservation when compared to note scribbled on a scrappy piece of notepaper/notebook that’s going to end up at the bottom of a bag/briefcase or in a loose-leaf folder never seeing the light of day again. To further illustrate as I don’t think my last point came across as well as I wanted – if you arrange that you are going to do something for someone and then in front of them enter the task  into a PDA and set up an alarm reminder that person is going to be more assured that you will follow through then if you wrote the same task in a paper notebook.

Pigpog says - More Creative: Anything short of a Tablet PC can’t come close to the expressiveness you can get with paper and pen or pencil, and even the Tablet falls a bit short.

Ok absolutely 100% categorically disagree with this :o)..sorry Michael! In my opinion there is no tool more conducive to creating an ethos of creativity and expressiveness than a computer and this becomes instantly multiplied when that computer is a TabletPC or a computer linked to an interactive whiteboard. I agree anything smaller doesn’t cut the ice (try doing mindmaps on a Palm. It really doesn’t work even with Palm specific mindmapping software like Inspiration). There is just so much at hand to assist in the creative process when using a computer– amazing creativity software such as Mindmanager, Inspiration, Photoshop, GoBinder, Director etc. etc. un-limited colours, unlimited pen sizes/ pen types, special effects, clipart, images, video, audio, animation etc. etc.  Traditional artists and creative professionals may still be more comfortable expressing themselves on paper but even then the transition of traditionally paper-based creative industries, particularly animation, towards complete paperless production is phasing out traditional methodology. One of the most prolifically creative individuals of all time Leonardo da Vinci (incidentally my No.1 ‘hero’) scribbled many amazing wonders in the pages of his notebooks. I often wonder how much more of a genius he would have been if he had the advantage of a computer. So I’m sorry I think computers can be infinitely more advantageous in fuelling the creative process when compared to paper and pen.

Ok I’ve responded to Michael’s reasons for staying with paper. He’s well and truly beaten me on a couple of points but I hope I’ve countered some of his arguments in favour of working paperlessly. However it would leave my paperless defence incomplete if I didn’t take a few minutes to at least provide 5 key benefits that laptop, Tablet PC, PDA use etc. has over paper:

  1. Paper is passive – When someone writes an appointment on paper it isn’t exactly going to sprout legs and jump up and remind the person when that appointment comes around (well unless it’s a Nutty Note of course :o)). In order to remember appointments written on paper there is therefore a requirement to actively perform ongoing checks which can a hard routine for most people to maintain. An electronic equivalent, on the other hand (especially an ‘on person’ PDA), offers a ‘write and forget’ solution which lets an individual forget an appointment until the unit screams a reminder with all alarms blazing (although one of course has to ‘box clever’ and set a ‘lead time’ reminder should the appointment require any preparation beforehand). My PDA has saved my life a thousand times and made me appear infinitely more organised and ‘on the ball’ than I really am. For this ‘neck saving’ reason alone I couldn’t be without my electronic nagging machine.      
  2. High Five for Wi-Fi – with more and more wireless bases being installed around our towns and cities (and even on public transport), and the ubiquitous cell phone, how can anyone who is committed to maximising productivity, choose a paper notepad over an electronic equivalent? Surely a person with an electronic device, who has the capability of being able to tap into wireless hotspots/cell phones to gain mobile access to mail accounts, news feeds etc., has a huge productivity advantage over Mr. Paperphile with his humble notebook.
  3. Never ending notebook, never ending space – Continue writing on a paper notebook and eventually that notebook is going to run out of room and require replacing. Electronic notebooks on the other hand technically never run out of space (I say technically because you could of course run out of electronic storage space but this can be usually be addressed at little to no cost by backing up onto optical media, SD cards etc.). In applications such as GoBinder and OneNote (Evernote works on the principle of a never ending page) you can make your individual pages as long as you wish, wide as you wish and contain as many individual pages as you wish. Not only is space unlimited on an electronic notebook but the notes are fluid and non-permanent. By that I mean one can erase notes or portions of notes and easily move sections of notes to other pages/areas a luxury not available with a paper notebook (short of ripping out pages of course).
  4. Find it FAST! - Ability to quickly auto-search through notes whether typed or handwritten (inked) on a TabletPC.  Try finding Aunt Edna’s phone number in a full 80 page paper notebook…nuff said! :o)
  5. Kind to the Trees – I can’t offer my 5 key benefits of being paperless without paying homage to my eco-friendly side but the fact is if the note-taking populous don’t use paper then there is no need for the forest-felling populous to hack down all the trees. The trees get a break! Animals get a break too as the cattle-hunting populous  aren’t running around the fields chasing down cows to adorn the cover of a latest batch of opulent notebooks (I actually used to think that Moleskine notebooks had leather covers (possibly from moles) but fair play to them their covers are actually a patented ‘faux-leather’ – labelled Moleskine..Doh!!).

Ok now that I’ve made my ‘ridiculous but true’ Moleskine confession I’d be better scurrying away. I hope I have convinced a few people that productivity and creativeness can be improved through operating paperlessly. Whether I have or haven’t is immaterial really. What is more important is that you go along to Michael and Sam’s (the other brain behind pigpog) creativity blog and spend a little lot of time there.  They’ve built up a great resource of creative information and I guarantee you'll leave with a whole bunch of inspiration.


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I still enjoy my Moleskine over my old Palm device any day. At least my Moleskine notebook never crashes, locks up, or has caused me to completely lose all my data while on the road (backup not included). It never runs out of power right when I need it the most. And although a tree is cut down to produce it (which a new tree can easily be planted), it will eventually biodegrade over time unlike the chemicals, and toxic metals my Palm contained. ;-)

Hi Sysop,
Thank you for taking the time to comment. On the 'crash, lock-up' comment I agree I'm 100% reliant on my devices operating flawlessly. I can and do minimise the chances of anything bad happening by regularly spring cleaning my systems and keeping everything backed up. However ultimately I can do little more then leave the fate of my data in the hand of the Gods! :o)

On your second eco-friendly comment I also agree. In a direct comparison between your biodegradable Moleskine and my toxic laden Palm your always going to win (although we are beginning to see electronic manufacturers becoming more aware of green issues). However barring accidental damage once I have my Palm then I have it for a good few years and have no need to use paper (yeah I know technology quickly becomes outdated but it is important if one is concerned about environmental issues that one DOESN'T keep up in the race to always have the latest gadgets). Meanwhile, during those 'few years' that I have my PDA, you will have gone through quite a number of notebooks I'm guessing. Multiply that by several thousand feverous Moleskine users and that hole in the forest is beginning to get a whole lot bigger. Additionally my ethos is to use technology WHILE AT THE SAME TIME keeping a close eye on the eco-friendly side of things. While I can't do anything about buying and using gadgets ladens with toxins that need continual charge I can strive towards rebalancing things in other areas such as using a green electricity tariff, recycling computer components, not using a car etc. By taking extra green measures in the areas I can I'm hopefully cancelling out the 'ecological crimes' I'm commiting in the areas I can't control. It's challenging but ultimately rewarding.

Anyway thanks for stopping by Sysop and having a chat. I really appreciate your input as views from the other side always keep me open minded and thinking.

A great response - thanks, Robert.

I certainly don't mean to suggest that paper is better for everything. I'm typing this now on a computer - a Moleskine wouldn't work so well ;)

Also, I actually *have* a tablet PC and a Windows Moble PDA/Phone, so I love me some gadgets too.

On the other hand, I think better with paper, and the tablet just doesn't replace that for me. I pretty much never use the tablet features, actually, as a bit of paper and my Lamy Safari or Pentel Kerry do a better job.

For the creative stuff, it just comes down to what works best for *you*. Some people will paint just as well in ArtRage on a tablet, some won't. Some can brainstorm perfectly in FreeMind, some can't. I keep changing, and I use paper for some things and the computer for others.

If I had to choose one or the other, I'd pick the computers - I prefer keeping my choices open all the way.

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