Post Pencil?

Sharon has been writing eloquently about Sherry Turkle’s book Simulation and Its Discontents, which I also read as part of the “choose your own reading” part of the course. Go read Sharon’s posts, particularly the one about socks, and then come back…no, really, go…

Turkle’s book is a microcosmic look at experience of the analog to digital transition. I am part of the generation that is living through that transition. Like Turkle’s engineers and architects, I face the fundamental question: As technology replaces so much of what we do “by hand,” what analog practices do we want to keep around? I know that some of my colleagues would probably say none, having developed digital lives for themselves.

But, as I face the transition, I find that there are certain things I like to do with a pencil in my hand and the digital alternative is simply not as satisfying. The main one: my to do list. I use it, in conjunction with a print calendar, to map out my months, weeks, and days. It’s the way I’ve always done it and I have yet to find an online alternative that satisfies me. I begin my day by jotting down what I want to accomplish and still get a thrill when I can draw a line through it at day’s end.

I also prefer using a pencil and paper for brainstorming and drafting. Like Turkle’s folks, I sometimes feel as though word processed text looks too complete and the highlighting and commenting tools do not provide the same level of contact with the text in order to complete detailed editing. Of course, my advisor and I used these tools to pass drafts of my dissertation back and forth but my own work on the draft often include lots of handwritten work from outlines, to diagrams, to chunks of text. My spiral bound notebook is included in the archives of the project because much of the thinking about themes was concocted in its pages. At some point, I tried using a digital graphic organizer but somehow the technology got in the way. I wanted to scribble, to draw wavy arrows, to circle words, to jot pictures, to create messiness, and the software seemed to demand neatness and order. I wasn’t creating for someone else but instead trying to dig into my own thinking and the pencil was more inviting than the mouse as the tool to facilitate that process.

While these activities seem mundane compared to Turkle’s folks who are grappling with the meaning of simulations for their very work, they illustrate in a very practical way the decisions we make each day about our use of technology. I think it’s important to consider these decisions and provide opportunities for kids to understand them as well, lest they become like the younger designers who see no value in the old ways and rely, sometimes too completely, on the simulation.

5 thoughts on “Post Pencil?

  1. I have to have my paper calendar and my to-do-list as well!! There is just somehting about being able to physically cross off what you have accomplished and then throw a completed to-do-list away at the end of the day or week. I too have tried many on-line calendars through hand-held devices, outlook calendars, etc. and have not been able to use them as effectively as the paper ones. There are still just some things that are easier and more comfortable to do with pen and paper!

  2. I have to chime in about the “to do” list. I also love writing out my list of (ahem) homework assignments, etc., and then feel great when I can cross off the finished items. I also keep all my old spiral notebooks with handwritten notes — often precursors to papers that were or were not actually written — because it’s fun to follow the scribbles around the page. It’s almost like revisiting a physical site, maybe a former home or favorite vacation spot.

    BTW, thanks for the support re: my blog. For any latecomers, the post about socks is actually entitled The Economics of Science (


  3. I recently bought a Blackberry, which can do just about anything. I am using it primarily for the phone and email functions, with an occasional use of the camera. I cannot bring myself to use the calendar. For me, it is not so much crossing off things, but having the ability to see what came before and what events are upcoming; the digital version is just not the same.

  4. I love my Blackberry. I keep track of good wines had at restaurants, debit account at farmer’s market, to-do lists. I’ve downloaded great apps,-flashlight, news, weather, restaurant finder, etc. I can keep up with my work email, home email, and Facebook friends. OMG, I think I’m addicted!

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I have tried in the past many times to get myself properly organized with the latest new device, but somehow I always end up back with pen and paper.

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