Why Are Digital Systems So Popular?
Before looking at paper options it’s worth considering why digital options have replaced paper in so many cases. Of course, there are unique reasons in certain industries but in general digital options provide a perfect and loseless copy of a file that stays the same quality no matter the length of time. This alone basically out does paper at it’s core function, providing a record for the future, but of course it doesn’t stop there. Digital copies can also be shared (without losing the original) and with modern cloud services and searching tools, they can be found easily amongst a pile of other notes where ever you are (as long as you have a network connections). Oh and don’t forget that with some tools you can track changes, undo mistakes easily and collaborate in a group.
You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that these reasons must make digital tools the only option, but don’t get too digitally carried away yet.
The Incredible Value Of Paper
Let’s hit the easy points off first of all before we get into the real unique value. At the moment, you can’t draw on a tablet or screen as well as you can on paper. Styli are improving rapidly but they generally suffer from a lack of detail or poor contact with the surface they are interacting with. There are some benefits that come with high cost styli but generally if you want to quickly sketch an idea or annotate a note with some images, it’s better to do it on paper. I have little doubt this will improve and reduce over time but it is still true at the moment. But there is an even greater reason why paper is valuable.
Paper provides more mental hooks for remembering something.
There is strong scientific evidence that when we read something we process information not just based on it’s content but on it’s context and location. It’s why you can remember that quote is somewhere on the top of a page, or the section you highlighted is at the bottom of a page near the back. Furthermore, paper has a feel to it and the process of physically interacting with something helps to remember this item as well. It may even take more time to write something down onto paper than to dictate a note, ensuring we are thinking about this item for longer which helps it to log itself into our memory more.
- Fast company: you won’t remember this article or anything else you read online unless you print it out [Psst, I didn’t print it out and I remembered it!]
- The accidental creative podcast episode with Ryan Holiday (the part at the end discussing his note taking system)
Getting the key advantages of both of these tools would be really great and progress is being made here, but we’re not there yet. However, the ideas below are some ways to combine the best of both digital and analogue note taking tools.
Take a notebook with you
Although it’s tempting to remove a paper notebook from your everyday kit, due to paper’s benefits, it maybe worth adding one back into your carry kit. Something like field notes (whose motto is the apt “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now”) don’t take up a lot of room in your pocket, or index cards can be a handy tool providing sketching opportunities.
Take pictures of paper notes
Taking a picture of a paper note gives you many of the benefits of digital notes, in paper form. Sure you won’t get revision history or the option to undo edits, but you do get the permanent, unchanging version which you can access anywhere. Evernote and Google docs even provide built in options.
Use a pen like livescribe
Livescribe pens are pens and so much more. They can be used to simply write or draw a picture but they can also connect with your iDevice and then provide a digital copy of your writing or picture. You can then send these notes directly to Evernote as well. This is great if you love the feeling of a pen on paper and dislike styli. This is probably the closest and greatest integration between paper and digital formats.
Print out copies of notes
Of course, once your notes are into the digital system you lose some of the tactile and memory benefits from paper that you gained. The simple solution is to print off certain items, but be careful. You may find yourself swimming in paper before long and losing all the benefits of your paperless system (and don’t even mention the environmental impact).
Do you still use a paper notebook?