Why the paper notebook is making a comeback

I’ve noticed a funny thing over the last five years or so: paper is making a comeback. Go to a meeting just about anywhere, and you’re more likely to see paper notebooks than digital ones, especially among the primary participants in the meeting.

Why?

Some suggest that its anti-technology backlash, but I don’t think that’s the case. My theory is that with the ubiquity of wireless data connections, there is no way for a meeting notetaker to convince everyone else in the meeting that he is not looking at Facebook or surfing the web – paper is the only way to communicate to other attendees that I’m really paying attention.

One other interesting result of the trend is that people who do use devices for note-taking tend to go out of their way to signal to others that they are not using the devices for other purposes.  Watch how many comments there are, from “Can you say that again so I can capture it here?” to the more explicit “I just want everyone to know I have wifi turned off and am just using the laptop to take notes.”

One beneficiary of the trend is a company called Moleskine which is doing very well in tech circles, selling (gasp) paper to the digerati.

Pay attention at the meetings you attend over the next month – is there more or less paper than there used to be?

The end of vintage as we know it

Instagram became the photosharing site bought by Facebook for $1 billion not by helping its users produce the most realistic photos of the world, but by supplying users with filters that serve mainly to reproduce the feel of vintage photos. In our nostalgia, we go out of our way to avoid reality rather than trying to reproduce it perfectly.

And this kind of nostalgia isn’t limited to photos – anyone who has paid any attention to music over the last 30 years will easily be able to pick out the vintage sound of the 80s or 70s. Modern bands go out of their way to reproduce these sounds.

What’s more curious to me is that everything we consider to be vintage – to be evocative of an earlier era – seems to have looked or sounded the way it did because of the limitations of technology at the time.  The good people at Polaroid who made the first instant cameras probably weren’t trying to create images that were oversaturated, with fading at the edges.  I have to imagine that they were trying for perfection, and oversaturated images with fading at the edges was just the best they could do with the technology of the day. Sometimes I forget that the 70s wasn’t an oversaturated decade – it just looks that way based on the photographic evidence.

This idea holds true for music as well – when the first keyboard synthesizers were created (think 70s classic rock or 80s pop), they had certain hard technological limitations.  So they were capable of just a few sounds, like the square wave, which most of us will recognize immediately as a staple of 80s pop or the only sound most early computers were capable of making. Another early limitation that defined the sound of the era was that early synthesizers were only capable of playing a single note at a time (which is to say they were monophonic).  This led directly to the classic sounds of bands like Rush and Steve Miller (listen to Rush’s Tom Sawyer at about 1:32 for a great example of monophonic, square-wave based sound). Contemporary musicians who want to reproduce these sounds have polyphonic synths with filters and settings that make them mimic the limitations of earlier monophonic synths.

So what I’m curious about is where we go from here.  If vintage is all about viewing or listening through the filters of old and imperfect technology, and new technologies have allowed to to essentially reproduce reality perfectly, what kinds of images and sounds will evocative of 2013 in, say, 30 years from now?  Or is this the end of vintage as we know it?

Are we living in the Matrix?

There is serious science exploring the question of whether we are living in the Matrix, and scientists think they have a way to figure it out.

Interesting side note: Descartes was one of the first to explore this question.  Following shortly on the heels of “I think, therefore I am,” he argued that the world is essentially the way that we experience it through our senses but that our senses can be fooled, and he could not be sure that we are not living in a simulation (described through either the “brain in the vat” or the “evil demon” metaphor).