the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Back To Paper

While I didn't do much in terms of 'going analog', one way in which I did, was by switching back to keeping a paper diary.

I've kept a diary, off and on, since high school. I started an electronic diary (using my blog software) in 2006, and in recent years it's been a regular part of my life. I use it as a (sometimes mundane) record of what I've been up to, but also a place for career and life thoughts, and everything in between.

I've also kept a far less frequently visited paper diary, in which I'd write every few months, and in some cases, years. I think it started with me wanting to get all angsty at some point while studying at my desk, without my laptop at hand, and writing something in an old notebook. It became a diary-away-from-diary where I could reflect on things a bit more, and get more perspective by seeing things spaced further apart than the day to day entries of my main diary.

(One could split hairs about the former being a diary and latter being a journal, but I won't; both had elements of both at times, and I called them both diaries and had no time or need for such pedantry until I started writing this blog post. I digress.)

Point being, the bulk of my diary-writing happened electronically, and was a regular habit. As part of the declutter, thinking about avoiding electronic devices and trying to do more physical things, I asked myself whether the time spent typing at a keyboard mightn't be switched to time spent using pen and paper? I was ambivalent at first, but about a week into my declutter, I took the plunge and switched to my paper diary, exclusively.

I was worried about switching away from electronic diary-keeping for two reasons. The first was searchability - it's going to be a looong time before software can decipher my scribbling. The second reason is that electronic diaries are easily backed up and far more immune to fire and floods. I could scan the paper diaries, but it's a hassle, which is why 'scan old paper diaries' has languished untouched on my TODO list for years.

On the other hand, there were good reasons to switch to paper-writing. I knew that I sometimes rambled on too much and the immediate productivity change was - I hoped - that the impedance of writing by hand would keep me more focused so that I spent less time doing it. Beyond that, I was curious about the idea that without being able to use a text editor, and without the write/edit/write/edit cycle that typified my diary-keeping (and blog-writing), I'd be more inclined to think ahead, and better structure my thoughts.

(I'd recently read an article about the famous - and sometimes famously cranky - Computer Science pioneer Edsger Dijkstra, who insisted that his students submit hand-written assignments: his belief was that the number of corrections in students' writing was a sign of how not well thought through their ideas were.)

Finally, it was one way to be more analog, and try to get some of the touted benefits of doing physical things, that didn't require me trudging through the long and un-thrilling list of DIY projects I need to do at home.

When it came to the end of my declutter, I was still undecided. I wasn't sure whether to wrap it all up and go back to the electronic diary, or to stick with pen and paper. I decided that since I was mostly undecided, I may as well just keep writing by hand.

A few months later, and I'm glad I did. I'm not sure that I've really saved much time relative to my old keyboard-based diarising, or whether my diary entries are any more structured or better thought out than they were as text files, but I've come to enjoy it, and the practice of writing. It is, in one small way, a case where a physical activity has supplanted and is more satisfying than its electronic equivalent. Scanning the old (and new) paper diaries should probably more of a priority, again.

{2019.12.01 22:00}

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