Oh, the Humble Notebook

For someone who spends most of their life in front of a computer, and has used the internet since 1993, and first posted to Usenet in 1995 (thanks, Google Groups), I spend a surprising amount of time writing stuff down. You know, on paper, with a (fountain) pen. Longhand. I go through a lot of pads of paper, taking notes in meetings and things, but I also go through a kind of frightening number of notebooks. Notebooks of all sorts – little staplebound things, nice hardcover ones, Moleskines and Moleskine knockoffs, steno pads, composition books… I’ve used ’em all. (Cheap notebooks don’t flicker at 60Hz and cause eyestrain. Nor do their batteries die at inopportune moments, nor do they suffer “general exception errors” and “crash”. I heart pen and paper.)

My problem, such as it is, is that a large amount of what I write down I want to keep to refer to at a later date. This is fairly normal, I guess; most of my coworkers do the same. It’s just… they either use file-folders to store stuff, or three-ring binders, and organize things by project. I don’t do this because I’m not quite that organized, when all is said and done. Also, I don’t like carrying around lots of file folders full of loose paper, and three-ring binders take up way too much space.

My aversion to file folders, by the way, is entirely practical – I sometimes refer to notes on or from projects months or even years after the fact, and if I ever kept stuff in folders and dropped more than one at the same time… my notes are frequently context sensitive, to put it mildly, and many are probably meaningless even to me, removed from the proper temporal context. (“Three of five [respondants] identified Wednesdays as the slowest day for business, barring special events. One each chose Tuesdays and Sundays, with the same caveats.” I found something very close to this written on a Post-It(TM) note, stuck inside a reference book, recently; it took me close to a week to remember what it was about, because of the lack of context.)

So, yeah, I like notebooks. Turns out I’m not the only one…

One of my favorite ways to waste time on the internet is a site called Notebook Stories, which reviews and writes about and just generally geeks out over anything and everything notebook-shaped. They’re one of the major reasons I have a desk drawer full of as-yet unused notebooks of various sizes and brands, awaiting whatever project they might happen to prove ideal for.

That, by the way, is a part of the reason I have so damned many of the things: when I start in on a major project at work, I tend to devote a new notebook to it. Not always huge notebooks, mind – I have some little Apica notebooks from Japan with, like, 48 pages in ’em, and some little Whitelines notebooks (from Sweden, of all places) whose softcover versions have, um, 48 pages, too. Huh. (You can get them from Amazon, BTW. I go through their lined A4 pads like they’re crack.) Another favorite is the notebooks from Myndology, who license Atoma’s “Rollabind” system and make it easier to get in the States. Some people go hog-wild with the whole thing, but I just like the removable nature of page binding, and the fact that you can mix and match lined, gridded, and plain paper to suit your needs.

The other part of the raison d’etre for my mountain of notebooks is that I am always using a notebook to take semi-random notes in for work. Sometimes it’s stuff of interest from newspaper articles, or stuff off of websites whose future existence I have doubts over; other times it’s e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and whatnot. Sometimes there is some truly random stuff strewn around, just because I found something amusing, or whatever, wanted to record it for a later date, and didn’t have anything else to write on – hence a bound notebook with page after page of terrorism notes cribbed from a series of AP stories a while back, and somewhere in the middle of all this, a page with nothing on it but “The Christian Socialist Party for the Preventative Clubbing of Differently-Abled Homeless Transgendered Baby Seals of Color”. I still find the name amusing, in an absurdist way, but I no longer have any idea of where I heard it, or why.

There’s no index to any of these things, except (sort of) in my head. I go through about two of these random notebooks a year, so when I want to refer back to notes I cribbed from Wikipedia on the 1970s Weather Underground group, I know that I was doing a lot of historical research back around the time I was using the red spiral-bound notebook, so I flip through that one first. If it’s not in there, there’s always the (earlier) black composition notebook, or the (later) orange staple-bound one to check.

It works. Mostly.

I grew up doing this kind of note-taking, and really can’t break myself of the habit. For a couple of months I tried doing all this on a computer, but the resulting multitude of files was unwieldy, and the (very fast) speed at which I type meant that what would otherwise have taken a quarter of a page, handwritten in an A5 notebook, sometimes bloated on the computer to two typewritten pages. (Wordy, me?) Also, my habit of sprinking in cross-references also became annoying – (see p.22) suddenly became (see notes/2008/Jan/notesforroughdraft2.odt, under “to do/assigned”) – and the easy ability to make changes meant that I frequently found myself editing the (unnecessarily verbose) things I was referencing, just because I could.

So, yeah. That’s the story of my notebook addiction, and the gruesome details of the work habits of a touch-typing luddite…

Published in: Geekiness, General | on September 9th, 2010| Comments Off on Oh, the Humble Notebook

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