Y OU MAY RECALL, SEVERAL YEARS BACK, spare afternoons. It’s more to suggest that paper
when the coroner’s report on paper came back affords presence and immediacy for the tasks that
with findings as grave as they were decisive. Owing require our minds to be open, ductile, and genera-to its purported cost, unwieldiness, and utter obvia- tive. If you’ve mastered an electronic tool to the
tion by widely available clusters of zeroes and ones, extent that paper seems to impede your flow, then
the proud and pulpy sheet was reportedly as dead more power to you.
as Trotsky. Four thousand years in the loyal service But even in the rarified geek subculture of Extreme
of pharaohs, lovers, and child-artists just terminated Programming, we find paper to be front and center.
without ceremony or recompense — made redun- Index cards are employed in abundance, with clients
dant, we were told, because simply everyone was writing user stories, developers tracking tasks, and
using computers nowadays — so, why (God, why?)
would any sensible person ever want to write some- “Our real challenge today
thing down again? I mean, really.
Visualize the bafflement among the paperphilic is not to use less paper
staff of Life Hacks Labs upon hearing from many
of these same (albeit slightly rounder and greyer) but to keep less paper.”
futuristas that paper is now apparently “back.” And
apparently paper has really caught on with geeks. the cards themselves serving as physical reminders
Can you believe it? The same scoundrels who were of progress and next steps.
placed in charge of all those computers that sup- Does this make my FedEx look fat?
posedly replaced paper back during the Clinton Unfortunately, the physicality that makes paper
Administration! The very idea. The mind reels. so ideal for “thinking” tasks is the very quality that
There is no Lumber Cartel. Friends, we’re here makes it ill-suited for storage, recall, and transmis-
today to unveil the august secret that we hope will sion over physical distance; paper takes up space,
save potentially dozens of Important Technology weighs something, and can, in time, degrade in
Writers from needing to produce another wide-eyed quality. Plus, until they finally build out that interna-
report on how very odd it is that all these geeks tional network of pneumatic tubes we’ve been ask-
seem to love paper so much. The trick is that there is ing for, it’s likely that gzip and sftp will continue to lap
no paradox, no more so than suggesting that people faxing and shipping for both cost and efficiency.
who buy screwdrivers must necessarily hate drills. Farmer and cowman should be friends. As
Geeks rely on paper for the same reason that the Malcolm Gladwell noted in his 2002 New Yorker
normals do: paper — along with conceptual cousins review of The Myth of the Paperless Office, our real
like whiteboards and magnets — is simply the most challenge today is not to use less paper but to keep
efficient tool for completing certain kinds of cognitive less paper. Paper still has a role in our lives — just
work. And no amount of enhanced technology will not as the sole information tool we have at our
likely diminish this anytime soon. disposal. We don’t throw out our wallets when we
Paper’s in the room with you. The physicality of buy a new suitcase, and no one seems to mind liv-
paper invites us to stack and tear and tape and fold ing in a home that contains both a television and a
and occasionally even fashion a missile to hurl at a radio. Likewise, there’s plenty of room for paper and
beloved family pet. Paper is there, and it inarguably digital to live alongside each other so long as we
represents the purest and most durable instance of remember and respect what each is better at.
the WYSIW YG interface. For ubiquitous capture, planning, and brainstorm-
A pile of sticky notes and a blank wall brings a ing, paper’s tough to beat. For storage, searching, and
brainstorming session to life, while the modest index editing, the point goes to digital. As for organizing and
card lets us capture, pile, analyze, and quickly reorga- outlining? Your call. But whatever you decide to use
nize our thoughts in cognitively satisfying ways. and for whatever purpose, it’s comforting to know that
Paper likes a day off as much as anybody. This the chance for a fresh start is always waiting at arm’s
is not to imply that our tasks can’t all be accom- length on a penny’s worth of plain old paper.
plished with the help of an appropriate digital
device. We’ve each seen the outsize functional yield Learn how to reel in your mind at Danny O’Brien’s lifehacks.com
of one beardy hacker, a Perl install, and a couple of and Merlin Mann’s