Jiwon's Alcove

Analog is Still King

Apr 28, 2023

Growing up in the digital era, I've always been fascinated by emerging technologies. I've tried incorporating various apps and devices to organize my life and research, from zettelkasten apps and e-ink notepads to plain text. However, time and time again, I find myself reaching for the simplicity of a notebook. It seems that, for me at least, analog is still king.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind. One challenge I face with digital platforms is their lack of physical presence. My brain tends to work in an "out of sight, out of mind" sort of way, and I think those with clinical or subclinical ADHD can relate. A notebook serves as a tangible reminder of my tasks and ideas, which is why I always carry a small one with me, along with an analog watch.

Nonlinear Thinking and Friction. Digital tools often struggle to accommodate nonlinear thinking. A notebook provides the flexibility to sketch, work through math problems, and flip through pages to see the bigger picture. In comparison, digital apps and devices can feel clunky, with the friction of their quirks and limitations hindering the creative process. You have to wait for files to sync, troubleshoot bugs and lags, deal with imperfect palm rejection, etc.

On the hardware side, digital devices are inherently limited by their single-screen design. With a notebook, I can have tasks or notes on one page while easily referencing them as I work on something else. Plus, the physical act of writing helps me stay focused and present in my work.

Distraction-Free Productivity. Above all, I find that using analog methods keeps me from getting distracted. No matter how much you dumb down a smartphone or a laptop, they're still too proximate to where my entertainment comes from. I get the most work done when I lock myself in a small cubby with a pen, paper, and reference books.

It's true that digital platforms offer better long-term searchability and longevity. However, the humble notebook's tangibility, flexibility, and distraction-free nature give it an edge over pretty much every digital tool I've tried in most cases. It's the best todo list, calendar, journal, note-taking medium, as well as the best thinking and creative medium. I've learned my lesson and stopped searching for the "perfect app."