In an age of sharply escalating computerization and digitization of everything into an intangible ether, it can be hard to remember that paper, too, is just another medium, something that acts as a transmitter for something written or typed in the past.
I can divide my life into the disorganized forgetful mess I was before I had my first notebook, and the increasingly organizing and effective person I am still becoming since then.
“I was asked what syntax I use in my notebook: 🔲✔️ for tasks #️⃣ for notes/ideas ↪️ for sub-notes That’s it!”
On a recent drizzly Tuesday morning, a small group of ink enthusiasts—already rain-slicked, under umbrellas and ponchos—stood on Gapstow Bridge, in Central Park, admiring a brilliant-pink pokeweed bush. The Park was the first stop on a five-hour foraging trip that would take them up to Hudson Heights, to collect foliage and trash, which they would cook, to make ink.
This is really cool! I had no idea this was even a thing.
On paper, we can reflect, gaze out the window, and return to the same page we left. Instead of it changing, we change. If screens are about going fast, paper is about going slow. If screens are where we connect with others, paper is where we connect with ourselves.
You’re going to have to do edits–probably lots (and lots) of them–and sure, you’ll have to input them into the digital doc, but if you’re analog-minded, I highly recommend making your edits on a hard copy.
Information storage today is a perfect example of almost everything in the era of the Entanglement: some old problems have been solved, but vastly more have been created, and we have lost virtually all personal control of the information. We have to negotiate with our technology now for it to yield any value, while constantly dodging the vast and terrible threats created by its rampage across the world.
A lovely and incredibly well written ode to the permanence of paper and a brand of file folder I’ve never heard of before.
Reader Angus Macfarlane reached out to me recently with an anecdote I found fascinating. He agreed to let me share it below:
I’ve been a long time reader of the Cramped. Thanks for taking the time to curate interesting content about analog creativity. I would like to share an anecdote.
I was in the temple* yesterday and it occurred to me that we were still using pencils and paper. To get in, we show a piece of paper; to participate in an ordinance, we use a piece of paper; when the ordinance is complete, we show that with a red checkmark from a pencil. I think there are a few reasons for this. 1) There isn’t anything distracting about a piece of paper and a pencil. This allows focus to be placed elsewhere, while still ensuring accurate record keeping. 2) There are few points of failure in the system. If the paper arrives at the recorders desk with a red check mark, then it is recorded as complete. If not, then it isn’t. Paper also never runs out of batteries. 3) If a failure does happen, it is obvious. If a patron proceeds through the ceremony, it will quickly be apparent if they don’t have the paper, in which case the ceremony can’t be completed for them. There isn’t any ambiguity, it provides a binary situation of success/failure. 4) There is no delay in transmission. It is as fast as reading what is on the paper and verifying the check mark.
There are many digital systems in place as well, including databases, etc. My point here though, is that on the individual level, the experience in the temple is with paper and pencils.
*Context: This was an LDS temple (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormon). The LDS church has been very serious about record keeping since the 1800s, part of which is explained by the belief that heavenly and earthly records will be compared in some judgement day, and also that the LDS church does ordinances for the dead. The idea here is that for a person to be saved, they must complete certain ordinances on the earth (such as baptism). For those who died, the LDS church does ordinances for them (only in temples). Everything that is done is witnessed and documented. I don’t want to be blind to issues or concerns that surround this practice, but just wanted to share something interesting about the practice of using pencil and paper.
Paper and pencil make sense for such things – especially for longevity. I’ve long said, if you’d like something to last 100+ years, use paper. Every digital format I used 30 years ago, besides plaintext, is unreadable by computers of today. Yet, I have church ledgers from my great, great, grandfather well over a hundred years old that I can read easily today.
If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333, which is a damned good average for a hitter.
— Ernest Hemingway