The Lost Art

Note: This is probably the one and only cross-posting I’ll ever do with a million monkeys typing and It might help to clear up a little bit of confusion as to the focus of the new site, which is due to launch on Saturday morning.

About two months ago, I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s (as many Canadians are wont to do), sipping on an extra-large double-double and pouring through my Day Runner. I was processing my Inbox, correlating my notes, jotting down ideas for this site, making little sketches for layout, and generally chilling out to the rhythm of the air conditioner above my head mingled with some half-remembered tune. Three tables away, a 20-something was tapping away at his Sony Vaio, and every now and then, he would stop and stare ruefully at the laptop’s screen, as if he were pondering where next to nudge the direction of world affairs. During one of these pauses, he stopped and looked in my direction. The sight of my old-fashioned planner seemed to evoke something akin to haughtiness in his cocked eyebrow, and he resumed his imperial air whilst he turned yet again to the grave matter before him.

One hour, another coffee, and a cranberry muffin later, I had a plan for this site. I now knew what I wanted it to be, I knew how I was going to approach it, I knew what sort of team I wanted, and I even had rough sketches for its design. My mind was still reeling with all manner of ideas, many coming so fast I couldn’t write them all down fast enough. The accomplishment spread through me like a warm glow, much like the day when you finally conquer your greatest fear and nothing seems impossible. I jotted down some last-minute ideas, tucked away my pen and pencil, zipped up the planner, and got up to leave.

As I walked past the Vaio user, I couldn’t help but to take a quick look over the lad’s shoulder at the screen, wondering what manner of work could so engage a person. Well, he was directing a civilisation or two, it seems. The game was Age of Empires II, if I don’t miss my guess.

Now, I’m not belittling the need to relax by playing games; I can jump into a good strategy game with the best of them. Nor do I have anything against using computers; I am not a Luddite, and I have been an IT professional for approximately half my life. But it was the look. It was the type of condescending stare that transmits a million base thoughts: he’s afraid of technology; he’s using the same antiquated things my grandfather used; he’s living in the dark ages, never to be brought into modern times.

Okay, perhaps I’m paranoid.

But the look figured into the creation of this site, you see. It helped me see that the use of paper was fast becoming a lost art.

Now, I hear you say: “But billions of people all over the world are still using paper… how can you claim it’s a lost art?”

I became “all-digital” in the late 80’s. From there on in, I attempted to use the computer for everything, including writing, time management, graphic design, communications, photography and teaching. There was nothing I did that didn’t have a digital component, it seems. Nowadays, I look around to see that my friends and family have finally been swept into this modern paradigm. Outlook is often the productivity tool of choice, and nothing is sent from one place to another unless it’s a steady stream of bits and bytes. Even to a casual observer, the implications are obvious: computerisation brings civilisation into its fold, and the more the world adopts PCs, cell phones and PDAs, the more it blots out all traditional and organic means of living and working. The use of paper is slowly being replaced by digital media, and –at first glance– it appears that those people still finding paper useful are adopting a dying art.

Or so it would seem. And so the look in the coffee shop told me. It was then I decided to expand the range of the new site. I had originally been thinking of it simply as a place to offer D*I*Y Planner kits and advice, to leave my poor little blog with something else to discuss, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there seems to be a renaissance in the air. People are suddenly awakening to the fact that we can be just as productive with paper, if not more so. It also brings a sort of intimacy back to living, where we can hold a tangible pen, see the spread of ink, feel the texture of real paper, be linked to an art and method that go back millennia. We know the inked quill of John Dunne, the charcoal of Da Vinci, the sumi brushwork of the Japanese, and the fragile gall-iron and ochre marks upon ancient parchment. There is tradition, there is heritage at work. Yea, verily, even unto checking a Next Actions box!

That’s the rub, I thought: bring back that fading connection with paper. The site should take into account much more than just time management, although that is still important: we need to live our lives as effectively as possible in a fast-paced world. But there is no reason why we can’t think of keeping journals again, to note the quirks and happenstance of our days. Why can’t we track our dreams, collect photos and fallen leaves, expand our ideas in multi-faceted webs, create art or just doodle, flesh out our little creations with something that actually feels like life and living?

This isn’t for everyone, of course, and for those people looking for useful templates to organise their month, yes, you will continue to find such things here. But to the many of us who are looking to unleash the more creative and intimate aspects of ourselves, there is room here too. And to those who love creating forms and sharing wisdom and questions, there is a place, and also for those who come in a state of confusion to seek a dash of inspiration mixed with a draught of practical advice. The voices are many, the quality of the many volunteer writers superb, the viewpoints diverse. This is a community site, one that is built to focus upon once more regaining a lost art.

This is a long way of saying, “Welcome to” But now you know why we’re here.

10 Replies to “The Lost Art”

  1. Oh Doug! That’s a STUNNING article! I am humbled by your eruditeness and empowered by your emotive rationale.

    Cheers, mate!

  2. Hmm…I can’t help thinking you might be a bit defensive/paranoid. A look? If I was the guy on the Vaio, the thought behind my look would have been, “Cranberry muffin? I didn’t think anybody actually ate those.”

  3. Simon, I hear you, but I’ve always believed one’s eyes to be far more truthful than one’s speech, and certain looks are obvious if you’ve seen them enough.

    Of course, there’s a special irony at work here. A year or two ago, I would have been the guy at the Vaio thinking, “A paper planner? How quaint. My grandfather and he would have gotten along famously….” My look, however, would have been less critical and more amused.

    I explaing away this obvious hypocrisy by rationalising this change to be the result of “an evolution of thought, a re-examination of circumstance, and an exploration of alternatives.” 😉

  4. Hello.

    Last year I still used a PDA, it had all kind of software you could fit in one of those things but most of it were games. My original intention of using a PDA was lost due to games, my original intention was to organize my somewhat chaotic life. It became more chaotic.

    When I ditched the little thing to switch back to a paper planner I found myself with no refills for it so I searched a cheap alternative and I landed here.

    And I can’t wait until Saturday arrives. All I can say is: Great Work, Good luck and keep writing and creating.

  5. Pingback: 3 Things Today
  6. Hi Doug,

    I fully agree with your sentiments and it is refreshing to see them in a digital forum such as this.

    For years I have been telling my customers that paper is still the best, least expensive, most long-lived and most reliable technology:

    – It doesn’t need to be upgraded. Paper has not significantly changed for thousands of years. Paper that is hundreds of years old is still usable — readable and writable — today.
    – It does not need electricity or any other power source to function
    – It does not crash. Unless you spill something on it, or take the effort to light it on fire, you will not lose your work.
    – It uses open standards. Paper comes in standard formats for standard purposes: Letter-size, tabloid-size, index cards, business cards, etc. These standard sizes fit standard devices such as printers, fax machines, etc.
    – It is ligher in weight and more transportable than any other technology.
    – It’s inexpensive. The entry-level price point is just a few cents.
    – It’s easily learned and used. Just about anyone in the world can be up and running in minutes, even a small child.

    In fact I feel so strongly about this I think I will post this rant to my own blog.

    The back-to-paper movement is in full swing. Viva the revolution!!!!

  7. Hey Doug,

    In the end, I have to admit that I might be more oblivious, as opposed to less paranoid. Besides, you were there, I wasn’t…and people definitely say things with their eyes that they would never express out loud.

    The really funny thing is, I probably give a similar look to people (I call them “poor saps” in my head) who I think are struggling to use their electronic PDAs. In a lot of cases, it seems that writing directly on the cash they laid out for those gadgets would have been simpler and more effective. If I really stop to think, however, I’m sure that electronics work out better for some portion of that crowd (and I wouldn’t try to keep my constantly shifting contacts list on paper).

    I have already put your templates to use in my personal (paper-based) planning system, and have pointed others to your site. Your generous contributions provide alternatives to individuals who are currently struggling, whether with a PDA or some different paper-based system that just isn’t a good fit for them. Thanks for being there!

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