The Lost Art

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.

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our connection to paper

I think you are right on, Douglas. In this age of accelerated pace, cold technology, and reduced social connections, I think paper might offer us a small opportunity to feel and share better. We might feel better because paper's analog qualities - fiber, color, texture - are richer than that of its (somewhat idiot savant) digital cousins. We might share better because, as you mention, digital tools can be isolating - we peer into our private little glass, focusing inward. Instead, I find that a piece of paper that I've worked a while has a personality different from all others - its doodles, cross-outs, patterns, and colors all make me want to share, to carry it around and say "Look at this!" (My five year old daughter does it, and her drawings are priceless - they're up on all my office walls, and at home.) Finally, I find that paper encourages me to draw, not just type, and those drawings are attractive, in both the "Pleasing to the eye or mind" and the "having power to arouse interest" senses. Is it possible for anything to be better than paper? I don't know, but I suspect paper will always have a role, and a deep connection to being human.

Excellent writing!

"As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it." (Proverbs 25:11)
Your writing style reflects an gemlike elegance. This I find truly refreshing in this world of slang and infinite abbreviations that pepper the common blogs. As to the content, the previous comment rings true.

The writers are taking care

The writers are taking care to not duplicate material on their own weblogs, but I think you might enjoy Doug's recent post After the Party on a million monkeys typing.


Primal connection

Most people in my office wouldn't know how to use an ax to chop wood, how to pick an injured bird, make pesto from scratch or sew/knit a garment. They can't remember the last time they made a fire. Or drew on a piece of paper! All such activities link to us to thousands of years of human beings doing the same thing, which feels good. Thanks to your site I have my own hpda now and am seeing the pencils and inks making marks on paper and really enjoying it. AND getting lots of work done in the office and personal activities more organized (gardening, drawing, knitting, cleaning and keeping house, meeting friends). As a new media designer I'm up to my neck in techno-speak/equipment, so was happy to find this DIY pda as another tool to help me un-techno myself when out of the office. Love your site, and you're an inspiring writer.

Retro is fun too

I just bought a Daytimer for my mother, and got one for myself so we can stay in synch. I'm having fun with it, but then I'm merging digital and analog by attempting to input as much via keyboard as possible and then printing it out. To me, it's "charmingly retro." There's a place for everything in this world.