Thursday, November 09, 2006

the occasional anachronist

First off, the title might lead you to think that I'm some kind of Lego warrior... I'm not. My only uses for duct tape and PVC pipe are for automotive and household repairs.

Anyway, in the midst of a twelve-hour workday, starting with an hour-long conference call and ending with zoning out on a leather couch watching our CFO give a presentation to investors, I realized something rather odd. I love paper.

Sure, I'm a computer programmer, and the vast majority of my work output (and recreational, for that matter) comes in those all-too-ephemeral forms of ASCII text in files, bytes in executables, and pixels on the screen... with each vertical sync of the monitor, each tick of the CPU clock, the things I do come and go. Whether it's love notes to my sweetheart, blog posts, photos of friends or some event, or simply some silly video clip, virtually everything I look at, modify, create, tweak, or interact with is electronic.

But when it comes time to read a book, jot down some notes, or draw up plans for some sort of project, I inevitably reach for that ancient ink or graphite on dried wood pulp.

There's very little better in this world than sitting in your home on a rainy autumn weekend, curling up under the blankets with someone you love, and opening up an old hardcover book... when you can identify your favorite novels not by appearance or title, but by weight and smell. New books, old books, fresh books, used books... I especially love the used books. When I was living in Ann Arbor, there were so many used bookstores around, and there were all sorts of titles that you'd never find anywhere else... I'll never forget finding my copy of William Gibson's Virtual Light... impeccable condition, likely only read once... with slightly yellowed pages and an absolutely wonderful smell... like memories of the basement as a child, and your first ping pong table, of laundry lint and fresh cut lumber, with just a dash of tool oil and aging vinyl records.

I've tried so many portable devices, from my ten year old PalmPilot to the Playstation Portable, and none of them can even approach the portability, flexibility, and relaxation of a printed book. The new e-Ink displays might come close, but they'll never smell like a good book.

For drawing, brainstorming, doodling, or notetaking, I find myself reaching for a drafting leadholder and my four-square-per-inch graph paper notebook. Such an elegantly intuitive interface, so open-ended... I use graph paper because regular lined paper always seems to be missing a dimension. I don't use pens because ball-points give a horribly erratic feel when you write with them, and the other designs leave nasty blotches that soak through the layers whenever you pause, mid-stroke, to think. Most mechanical pencils feel like such a compromise... the lead is too thin for some things, too thick for others. The tips break, the leads jam, you can't shade with them... a good drafting lead holder gives all the benefits of a classic wooden pencil, but in a sleek, modern, and elegant package.

I know this seems rather odd and rambling, but that's the kind of mood my brain is in right now. It's actually rather incongruous with some of my actions, such as suggesting to sabs that we send our wedding invitations electronically. My timesheets at work, to-do lists, directions to destinations... I handle them all electronically, even though most normal people do them on paper. I'm not precisely sure why, but it seems that if I want the most direct and unmoderated access to my brain, whether input or output, it's best done on paper.

I'm off to bed, armed with a good book.


traumahob said...


2:13 PM  

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