Pen and paper: Low-tech, but they work very well


Sometimes it takes higher tech to get you to appreciate lower tech.

Several years ago, I bought a Newton 100 for taking notes and keeping my life organized (fat chance). Some people get their ideas while they're in the shower; I get mine in front of the TV set. I wanted something that would allow me to take notes and to write things I heard while channel-surfing, and then off-load those notes and grow them into articles, books, plans for world domination, etc.

In all fairness, several people said the Newton probably wouldn't be good for this purpose. But did I listen? Noooo! After I upgraded the handwriting software to Graffiti, my ability to take notes improved, but by the time I grabbed the unit, whipped out the stylus, powered up and found the appropriate file, I often had missed what I had just heard.

Enter my new solution: the Paper PDA (aka note pad), a pocket-sized note pad from Michael Roger Press. It's 4 by 2 inches with a cool black holographic cover and about 50 wire-o bound pages of unruled, recycled paper.

I can carry it with me at all times, PULL it out and be scratching away in about 10 seconds. It needs no batteries, no special lighting conditions, no endless software and hardware upgrades and it cost about $4. The biggest drawback is that I can't automatically offload my notes, but I've found that in sitting down to copy the notes to my computer, I weed out a lot of "What-was-I-thinking" material that would've just clogged up my hard drive anyway.

I also find myself riffing on the material as I transfer it (probably adding tomorrow's 'What-was-I-thinking" notes, but among all that brainstorming, there's usually something worth building on).

My wife bought my Paper PDA at perhaps the coolest bookstore on the planet: Nantucket Bookworks on the tiny island of Nantucket, Mass. Besides great books, the aisles, walls and floors of Bookworks are crowded with trinkets, artwork, crafts, Archie McPhee pop ephemera and incredibly cool stationery (e.g. my Paper PDA). We visit Nantucket every year and I always scope out next year's Paper PDAs, pens, blank journals, greeting cards and a bunch of other stuff that vies for the cash in my wallet.

Everyone needs a pilgrimage. My annual pilgrimage to Nantucket (and this bookstore) is always a time to reflect on what I've done in the past year and what I plan to do in the future. I've hatched most of my life-changing plans there. It's also a time for me to get off the grid (or at least limit my connection to it) and expose myself to ocean, air and a stunningly beautiful island ecology.

FTC No, I'm not becoming a some neo-Luddite, but it's nice to wake up and smell the planet now and again and to sit at the beach composing my life on a humble (and blessedly non-digital) Paper PDA.

Gareth Branwyn is the Webmaster of Street Tech ( You can reach him at

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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