Nifty little column I ran across & thought you might like. A whip-smart yet gentle-hearted critique of our digital world by an analog holdout. I was not surprised to find out at the end of the article that she’s got a bachelor’s in philosophy. The last two paragraphs are the best — also I like what she says about thoughts having an incubation period. That’s exactly true & part of why I carry a notebook with me — you need to get them before they get away, and so you can grow them properly to use for later. Notebooks are tools for rational thought, for musing, for sanity (in my case, anyway.) What about you? If you use pen/pencil & paper, why & how do you use them?

Do you have a notebook?

Excluded Middles
September 14, 2011, 3:56am

MANILA, Philippines — I was in a job interview once, and the prospective employer asked what seemed to me to be a most obvious question: “Do you have a notebook?”

“Why of course, sir,” I said, holding up the proud Moleskine imitation I had in my hand. “Right here.”

The man laughed. “Old school,” he said. “I meant, do you have a laptop?”

“Oh. Right.” He was 30 years older than me, and I was old school. I felt bad.

When I was about seven years old, my parents put me through this summer writing workshop. There I was taught that writers always keep writers’ notebooks, a handy dandy thing made of actual paper on which you scribble a thought that comes to mind while you’re standing in line at the grocery store. Or when you hear a good sentence from a person you’re talking to, or from a movie, that which evokes a strong image or falls real nice on the ears when said out loud, or which, when the implications are explored, offer some pretty substantial food for thought. “All you have to do is write one true sentence,” Hemingway once wrote in his memoirs. “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

The point was that you kept a notebook to record your thoughts because thoughts have a short shelf-life, and they expire when they aren’t acted upon. You forget them and lose them forever if you don’t write them down right away. Thoughts are difficult to reproduce: they are the evocations of a precise set of circumstances, borne from a lifetime of unique associations. One novel thought comes to mind only because you are here now, and you may never have it anywhere else. A novelist once said that you don’t produce your thoughts; your thoughts come and visit you when you are in the right place at the right time. So you must write them down before they leave you for good.

The other point was that you kept a notebook to record your thoughts because most thoughts are raw. Thoughts are curious things: they are fleeting, yes, but they also have incubation periods. You have to capture them, and then water them and let them unfold, let them grow before they are ripe for sharing. You have to let yourself grow up and see their implications, let yourself grow up and hear, and actually listen to people whose thoughts are incompatible with your own.

Now I have nothing against tablets and little laptops. They’re light and functional and convenient, they make you work faster and more efficiently, they make content easily accessible. But it makes me really sad when I think that a few generations from now, people won’t even know how to write longhand. They will be so dependent on electricity and batteries and fancy digital things that they will never know the simplicity of ink on paper. They won’t have the pleasure of feeling the texture of paper against their skin, of seeing the inflections of mood and the little hesitations from telltale ink blots and the varying pressures of pen on paper. (Or maybe I just need to learn to love trees more. I don’t know.)

The other grudge I hold against paperless writing technology is the “instant publishing” option that it offers. Everything is suddenly public domain. There are no private thoughts. We think that just because we are thinking something, it means that we’re allowed to post it.

I have a Twitter account myself, and I know only too well the temptation of real-time self-narration – we disclose far too many personal details for all the world to read, if the world cared at all. (I submit to you that you only realize how much information about yourself you disclose online when a creepy stranger who reads your blog says it back to you in person. Just think how many inappropriate details you know about your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend just because you stalk her on the internet!)

And we think we can say all the mean, rude and inappropriate things because the internet is a free world and it requires no accountability. It’s all about putting on a good show, about projecting an online version of you. It’s all a performance. Maybe it’s the media’s fault. Maybe it’s all the glamour of fame and power and all the Hollywood gossip shows that disclose all the juicy details. Everyone wants to be famous, but nobody wants to be responsible.

Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the value of privacy, of silence, of prudence. We’ve lost the pleasure of writing for the self, of the comfort of solitude, of being alone with a word or a thought, and holding it in one’s mind, like a precious secret, because it is too valuable to just give away for free.

We are afraid of not having an audience, of not having eyes looking at us. We are afraid of being alone. We have become a lonely and haunted generation, because the point is that you keep a notebook because thinking and writing are pleasures in themselves, to be enjoyed in themselves, and you don’t need another person to “like” them for them to be so.

The author is a B.S. Philosophy graduate at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

(ht:notebook stories)