Are Pen and Paper Obsolete?

I recently posted a response to this week’s Trifextra, ‘Personification’. Here is is. One of the comments somebody gave me read as.

Cobbie’s World Says

“I am finding that the more I am using the notepad on my iPad, the more comfortable I am getting with releasing myself from pen and paper. I still like paper for helping me organize my thoughts for a story, etc., but, I am getting better at working more exclusively on the iPad. This transition is happening in schools, too. Where I teach, more and more kids are doing their reading, writing and research on tablets of one sort or another. Paper and pen are becoming obsolete technologies.
Thanks for a thought-provoking post.”

I responded by saying.

Tom Martin Says

“Let’s take a think on this. I accept that iPads and digital technologies have their place, and tablets are good in education (I don’t have one, but I’m looking into it for Uni). However, pen and paper are far from obsolete. We have written texts dating from around the birth of christ on parchment and scroll tomes – which we can read. Now, consider data storage. It is very limited. Can you still read information from the floppy disk? The SuperDisk or MiniDisk? CD-ROM? What about your standard memory card? No, no and no. Word is that CDs will be next to go; and even now it’s unlikely you can access your CD if it dates from before 2005. So if technology lasts for ten/twenty years, and pen and ink over two millennia; which is obsolete?

Thanks for a thought-provoking comment. I may write a post on it.”

I refrained from saying ‘consider your argument destroyed’, but I really wanted to. To a friend, I would have, but to somebody I don’t know it’s customary to be more civil, I think. I’m going to look at electronic versus physical, and see if the notebook can match up to the benefits of tablets and smartphones.

Let’s look at some of the pro’s of electronic notetaking:
1. Portability
2. Cloud Base
3. Easy Sharing
4. MultiFunctional

1. Portability. Most electronic devices are, to an extent, portable. The focus of her comment is the iPad. It’s not really that portable is it? If you’re going to take an iPad out with you, you’re going to need a bag. It isn’t a pocket device; not even the mini iPad. If you’re going to use a device for working on, I think the iPad Mini is the smallest you can realistically go. Whilst smartphones can ‘do’ most of the same stuff, they just aren’t built for it. I have the pages app on my iPhone, but it rarely gets used, to be honest. I mostly use it as an interface for emails – if I get an email I can edit it there and then, without the aid of a computer. However, it’s just too small to write an essay or draft a novel. I guess an iPad with a keyboard accessory would work well, but you’re already adding things to your iPad, decreasing the portability of it. I don’t think anybody can type straight onto the screen comfortable for any length of time. Take a notebook then. My little A6 Rhodia goes everywhere with me, it fits in my jacket pocket and is thus far more portable than an iPad. I guess you can say I need a pen too, but that fits right into the same pocket.

2. Cloud Base. Nowadays, we love to store our data in the cloud. Non-physically that is, of course. I’ll admit it’s great to be able to have your work available to you everywhere. If you’re working on the computer and have to leave to catch a train, take your iPad along and you can finish it up ready for presentation when you get to work. It’s very useful. Until it goes wrong. When you get on the train and your iPad throws up an error code; your PowerPoint is going to go a few slides short – which is a real pain. We rely on these things, which makes it all the worse when they don’t work. Trust me, my notebook has never failed to access my notes. Cloud is all very well, but it’ll never beat a hard copy for infallibility.

Next!

3. Easy Sharing. This sort of goes along with the cloud. Barring any issues, you could start, finish and send an essay to a tutor all on the iPad. Email is slightly less testy than the cloud, but I still hear my peers giving lots of excuses about how they couldn’t attach the file, it wouldn’t send or plain “I sent it, didnt you get it?” Whether that’s email faults or they didn’t do the work, I’ll leave to your discretion. If I work on a piece of paper, I have to either hand the physical copy to my tutor or scan and email – which requires technological assistance. Either way, I guess this one goes to the techno-pro’s. I love emails too, they’re very very useful.

4. Multifunctional. An iPad is not just a work device. Or a music player. Or indeed an Internet browser. It can do all of these things, which is both a blessing and a curse. I know people that work on iPads invariably get distracted, start listening to music or have a little go at Temple Run 2. However it’s pretty clear that the multi-purpose-ness of it is a benefit. You can research and complete an essay all on your iPad, collect the photos you need, email your tutor for advice then send it off all there. My notebook plays games too, though! You’ve got hangman, noughts and crosses, squares and loads of other games! I jest, though. Whilst the notebook eliminates the distraction elements, it also removes the most of the productive elements. I guess this one goes to the iPad.

Okay then. Lets take a little look at the negatives of a tablet for working on. A few of them dipped in above, but these are some big flaws.

1. Battery
2. Data Loss
3. Cost

1. Battery. Le’s be honest, the battery life for Apple’s devices is awful. Of course, we aren’t looking specifically at Apple, but almost all tablets aren’t great and the iPad dominates the market anyway. For really extended working, it’s just not up to it like some netbook laptops are. If you’re writing and researching, you’re going to have WiFi (or 3G) on, brightness quite high and your tablet will be chomping away at its’ battery constraints. Now, there’s a clear and easy fix; bring your charger with you! But then, it doesn’t make for a really portable device if you have to be within half a metre of a plug now is it? Pen and paper don’t have batteries, all they have is ink constraint (and sheets of paper, but paper is cheap. Ink, too.). Your notebook won’t give up on you halfway through that life-changing job interview speech plan. The tablet might. Shucks, really.

2. Data Loss. I think all of us have lost data at some point. Technology is a fickle thing, and has a way for destroying the data we need the most. Not the cat photos of course, that lovely juicy 5,000 word piece that has to be in tomorrow. Is your tutor going to believe you legitimately lost it? Not a chance. The techno-world have just accepted that it’s never infallible, and there’s always that little risk that something will go corrupt, or not save properly. Pen and paper won’t delete your work. You might drop it in a puddle, but if you’re using Noodler’s Bulletproof Ink, it won’t be a problem. If you drop your iPad in a puddle, that will be a problem.

3. Cost. Oh dear. I may seem very anti-iPad, but I’m looking into buying myself an iPad Mini. The thing that’s holding me back? The cost. Apple’s devices are very good quality, but they do charge a ridiculous premium price-tag. Can I justify that? I don’t know. The Nexus 7 seems a less-pricey alternative to me! Pen and paper need not be costly at all. I say need not – I have £200s worth of Fountain Pens to my name, but that’s my choice (there’s a reason I can’t afford an iPad!). You can use cheapandnasty ballpoints given away for free and get away with cheapandnasty Morrison’s Value Range paper, but I’m sure the most of us can afford a little luxury, can’t we? Maybe. If you can afford a tablet, you can afford decent stationary.


Well, this has turned into a one-and-a-half thousand word essay on whether pen and paper is obsolete, and general slating of the iPad. What’s better then, pen and paper or the iPad. I’m going to say neither really. I’d much rather work with the infallible physical paper, but others prefer the flexibility of a tablet. Tablets can simply do such much more, but we always come back to pen and paper really. We still sign away our lives with pen and ink, not the click of a button (in most cases). Tablets are great, paper is great. Choose what works for you.

I’d love to hear what you think. Comment below, or if you really feel strongly like I did, take a post and ping it back to me by pasting the URL for this post into yours!

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