Why little black books instead of phones and computers

“Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings.” That’s from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It’s a strange way to begin a post about notebooks, but Jobs’ views on the power of a potentially anachronistic practice applies to other seemingly anachronistic practices. I’m a believer in notebooks, though I’m hardly a luddite and use a computer too much.

The notebook has an immediate tactile advantage over phones: they aren’t connected to the Internet. It’s intimate in a way computers aren’t. A notebook has never interrupted me with a screen that says, “Wuz up?” Notebooks are easy to use without thinking. I know where I have everything I’ve written on-the-go over the last eight years: in the same stack. It’s easy to draw on paper. I don’t have to manage files and have yet to delete something important. The only way to “accidentally delete” something is to leave the notebook submerged in water.Notebook stack

A notebook is the written equivalent of a face-to-face meeting. It has no distractions, no pop-up icons, and no software upgrades. For a notebook, fewer features are better and fewer options are more. If you take a notebook out of your pocket to record an idea, you won’t see nude photos of your significant other. You’re going to see the page where you left off. Maybe you’ll see another idea that reminds you of the one you’re working on, and you’ll combine the two in a novel way. If you want to flip back to an earlier page, it’s easy.

The lack of editability is a feature, not a bug, and the notebook is an enigma of stopped time. Similar writing in a computer can function this way but doesn’t for me: the text is too open and too malleable. Which is wonderful in its own way, and that way opens many new possibilities. But those possibilities are different from the notebook’s. It’s become a cliche to argue that the technologies we use affect the thoughts we have and the way we express those thoughts, but despite being cliche the basic power of that observation remains. I have complete confidence that, unless I misplace them, I’ll still be able to read my notebooks in 20 years, regardless of changes in technology.

In Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson says, “Once perfected, communication technologies rarely die out entirely; rather, they shrink to fit particular niches in the global info-structure.” The notebook’s niche is perfect. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Moleskine racks have proliferated in stores at the same time everyone has acquired cell phones, laptops, and now tablets.

In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr says: “The intellectual ethic is the message that a medium or other tool transmits into the minds and culture of its users.” Cell phones subtly change our relationship with time. Notebooks subtly change our relationship with words and drawings. I’m not entirely sure how, and if I were struggling for tenure in industrial design or psychology I might start examining the relationship. For now, it’s enough to feel the relationship. Farhad Manjoo even cites someone who studies these things:

“The research shows that the type of content you produce is different whether you handwrite or type,” says Ken Hinckley, an interface expert at Microsoft Research who’s long studied pen-based electronic devices. “Typing tends to be for complete sentences and thoughts—you go deeper into each line of thought. Handwriting is for short phrases, for jotting ideas. It’s a different mode of thought for most people.” This makes intuitive sense: It’s why people like to brainstorm using whiteboards rather than Word documents.

IMG_2100I like to write in notebooks despite carrying around a smartphone. Some of this might be indicative of the technology I grew up with—would someone familiar with smartphone touchscreens from age seven have sufficiently dexterous fingers to be faster than they would be with paper?—but I think the obvious answer to “handwriting or computer?” is “both, depending.” As I write this sentence, I have a printout of a novel called ASKING ANNA in front of me, covered with blue pen, because editing on the printed page feels different to me than editing on the screen. I write long-form on computers, though. The plural of anecdote is not data. Still, I have to notice that using different mediums appears to improve the final work product (insert joke about low quality here).

There’s also a shallow and yet compelling reason to like notebooks: a disproportionate number of writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers like using them too, and I suspect that even contemporary writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers realize that sometimes silence and not being connected is useful, like quiet and solitude.

In “With the decline of the wristwatch, will time become just another app?”, Matthew Battles says:

Westerners have long been keenly interested in horology, as David Landes, an economic historian, points out in Revolution in Time, his landmark study of the development of timekeeping technology. It wasn’t the advent of clocks that forced us to fret over the hours; our obsession with time was fully in force when monks first began to say their matins, keeping track of the hours out of strict religious obligation. By the 18th century, secular time had acquired the pressure of routine that would rule its modern mode. Tristram Shandy’s father, waiting interminably for the birth of his son, bemoans the “computations of time” that segment life into “minutes, hours, weeks, and months” and despairs “of clocks (I wish there were not a clock in the kingdom).” Shandy’s father fretted that, by their constant tolling of the hours, clocks would overshadow the personal, innate sense of time—ever flexible, ever dependent upon mood and sociability.

The revolution in electronic technology is wonderful in many ways, but its downsides—distraction, most obviously—are present too. The notebook combats them. Notebooks are an organizing or disorganizing principle: organizing because one keeps one’s thoughts, but disorganizing because one cannot rearrange, tag, and structure thoughts in a notebook as one can on a screen (Devonthink Pro is impossible in the real world, and Scrivener can be done but only with a great deal of friction).

Once you try a notebook, you may realize that you’re a notebook person. You might realize it without trying. If you’re obsessed with this sort of thing, see Michael Loper / Rands’ Sweet Decay, which is better on validating why a notebook is important than evaluating the notebooks at hand. It was also written in 2008, before Rhodia updated its Webbie.

Like Rands, I’ve never had a sewn binding catastrophically fail. As a result, notebooks without sewn bindings are invisible to me. I find it telling that so many people are willing to write at length about their notebooks and use a nominally obsolete technology.

Once you decide that you like notebooks, you have to decide which one you want. I used to like Moleskines, until one broke, and I began reading other stories online about the highly variable quality level.

So I’ve begun ranging further afield.

I’ve tested about a dozen notebooks. Most haven’t been worth writing about. But by now I’ve found the best reasonably available notebooks, and I can say this: you probably don’t actually want a Guildhall Pocket Notebook, which is number two. You want a Rhodia Webnotebook.

Like many notebooks, the Guildhall starts off with promise: the pages do lie flat more easily than alternatives. Lines are closely spaced, maximizing writable area, which is important in an expensive notebook that shouldn’t be replaced frequently.

IMG_3900I like the Guildhall, but it’s too flimsy and has a binding that appears unlikely to withstand daily carry. Mine is already bending, and I haven’t even hauled it around that much. The Rhodia is somewhat stiffer. Its pages don’t lie flat quite as easily. The lines should go to the end of each page. But its great paper quality and durability advantage make it better than the alternatives.

The Rhodia is not perfect. The A7 version, which I like better than the 3.5 x 5.5 American version, is only available in Europe and Australia, which entails high shipping costs. The Webbie’s lines should stretch to the bottom of the page and be spaced slightly closer together. The name is stupid; perhaps it sounds better in French. The notebook’s cover extends slightly over its paper instead of aligning perfectly. Steve Jobs would demand perfect alignment. To return to Isaacson’s biography:

The connection between the design of a product, its essence, and its manufacturing was illustrated for Jobs and Ive when they were traveling in France and went into a kitchen supply store. Ive picked up a knife he admired, but then put it down in disappointment. Jobs did the same. ‘We both noticed the tiny bit of glue between the handle and the blade,’ Ive recalled. They talked about how the knife’s good design had been ruined by the way it was being manufactured. ‘We don’t like to think of our knives as being glued together,’ Ive said. ‘Steve and I care about things like that, which ruin the purity and detract from the essence of something like a utensil, and we think alike about how products should be made to look pure and seamless.

I wish the Rhodia were that good. But the Rhodia’s virtues are more important than its flaws: the paper quality is the highest I’ve seen, and none of the Rhodias I’ve bought have broken. If anyone knows of a notebook that combines the Rhodia’s durability with the qualities it lacks, by all means send me an e-mail.

More on the subject: The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men.

EDIT: See also Kevin Devlin’s The Death of Mathematics, which is about the allure of math by hand, rather than by computer; though I don’t endorse what he says, in part because it reminds me so much of Socrates decrying the advent of written over oral culture, I find it stimulating.

157 responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Not to mention… when I’d dead and gone, I’m pretty sure my children aren’t going to charge up my phone or ipad to reminisce. There’s something special about a hard copy in your-own-handwriting! :)

  2. I love this article! So true. I have all the technological gadgets, but I am most content with my spiral-bound notebook full of lists, scribbles, contacts and most of all…IDEAS! I just can’t get creative typing on a microscopic keyboard. I do warn my kids to proceed with caution as they open my journals when I’m gone. Oh, what I’d do to see the reactions! Hee hee.

  3. I love notebooks, especially Moleskine ones. It’s like an obsession. I have one for to-do list. Another for journaling, another for food. I am a huge technology user but there’s a certain attachment to notebooks that will never go away.

  4. I am so in agreement with you and am the biggest (only) stationery addict I know -I’ve even taken to making my own envelopes for letters….I stockpile notebooks for the eventual zombie apocalypse and I’ve keep 22 journals in 12 years. There’s something about writing longhand that can’t be matched by a computer. I love this post and am passing it on to Nifty at notebookstories.com so she can read it. Very well written and informative. Thanks for shasring with us!

  5. I completely agree the power and the draw of a pen and paper! I always carry at least two notebooks and 5 different colors of pens for drawing and differentiation. I’m in my early 20s, so I grew up with the technology and carry a smartphone, yet that’s not what I prefer. Writing is such an intimate experience–similar to the face-to-face interactions you mention–and thus there seems to be more substance and memorability, at least for myself. I revisit my notebooks all the time, yet I rarely go back to my Evernote musings. I think the momentary disconnect from technology is good for everyone. Thanks for a great, thought-provoking piece!

  6. Reblogged this on The Snallygaster and commented:
    A nice piece on the use of non-digital things. I experience the struggle every day between balancing my use of iPhone, desktop, laptop, etc. with “real”, non-virtual interactions with coworkers, family, and friends. And I do get satisfaction from actually writing things down instead of tapping away into some contraption and being bombarded by alerts.

  7. I’m still mixed on this issue…I feel more creative writing in a notebook than with a computer, but I also feel like I lose ideas or get bored faster because my writing speed can’t keep up with my brain. Right now I’m still mixing the two, with a strong preference for notebooks when I can use them.

  8. Really great post! Despite how much I use (depend on) technology to stay connected etc., all my work and personal notes are taken in notebooks. It’s not only for my own benefit, but that of the person I’m in conversation with. Taking notes in a notebook says “I’m paying attention and value what you are saying”, while using a computer, tablet or anything else doesn’t send the same message. Thanks for sharing this!!

  9. Seeing the disbelieving, disdaining faces of the other patrons at my coffee haunt, as I create my narrative and poetry with pen and paper, gives me a feeling of human accomplishment.

  10. There is something exquisitely intimate about a note, letter, journal entry stretched across a page; imperfections and elegant sweeping letters curled around a thought. Beautiful post and significant reminder.

  11. Great post. Obviously, I’m online now and I’m online often. Probably too often. And I write on a computer. But . . . I carry a notebook, I have two whiteboards in my house and use paper calendars on my walls. I’ve found that I tend to forget things once I “enter” them. The alerts are great, so I do everything digitally, but I also write things down because when I do, I tend to remember what I wrote, thus making the alerts moot. Also, sometimes I don’t trust the entries. Did I change that date or not? If I’ve written something down and crossed it out I can tell. (I know you can do that online too . . .but it’s not the same). I like to edit with a pen also (as well as online, which is so neat) but when it’s done with a pen there is a visual that’s so helpful to me. Am I doubling my work by doing both? Perhaps. But sometimes not having the distractions help. I used to do legal writing, at least by first draft, by dictation. I loved how I could just keep talking and not stop to edit. I could get a flow going. It’s difficult to look at a screen and not start to edit. Anyway, great post.

  12. I consider computers and technology to be a part of like anyone would an arm to be a part of them. On the other hand I also have a fondness for notebooks or pen and paper for certain things. One good example is when i draw. I have a Wacom tablet that allows me to draw with a stylus on my PC but I prefer to start my drawings on paper and ink them later on the PC. The process of pen on paper is natural to me and hard to simulate elsewhere.

  13. I couldn’t agree more with the concept of having notebooks over digital note apps. I use apps for things like my grocery and to-do lists, but leave the really important stuff on my little purse-friendly notepad, and I have an address book. The problem with smartphones and computers, as already mentioned, is the threat of losing info. Sure, my notepad can fall into a puddle of mud, but it’s more likely that my Android device will have a hiccup, as opposed to my notepad drowning.

  14. The real issue is…action!

    Twyla Tharp’s great book The Creative Habit takes it even further and suggests creating a cardboard box for every potential project. I like the physicality of something like that. As I type this on a Mac laptop, my red leather Filofax lies beside me, with fresh white sheets of 2013 ready for adventure.

  15. I’ve always been fond of Moleskine notebooks ever since I started writing for National Novel Writing Month. Being left handed, I prefer notebooks that are bound at the top so that I can write without my hand cramping over the page. I find that I can more easily tote around a small notebook and jot ideas than I can on a tablet or laptop. Unfortunately, the problems I have with notebooks are that corrections make my scrawl even messier and it’s extremely difficult to keep up a word count, especially for NaNoWriMo.

    Thank you for the insight on good notebooks. My moleskine binding is wearing out (granted, it’s over ten years old) and I’ve been looking for a new one of good quality. I’ll be sure to check out Rhodia.

  16. Have you ever seen john Howe (LOTR Illustrator) give his talk at IdeaCity? He talks about his sketchbooks the same way. I am trying the phone for now. Just so I don’t have to carry too much in my purse.

  17. Long live paper!

    My book, a physical book, is being turned into an e-book for Kindle and I have mixed feelings about it. I am learning to work on the Note app of my iPad and on my SIII, but yes it’s not the same. Unless you use a pencil, which is even more archaic and nostalgic, writing things down on a notebook is forever, even when you erase them by writing over them, but the notes you take down on an SIII or an iPad will only last until the next phone or tablet model is released, especially for me who find it too tedious to sync everything.

    Now I’m thinking of handwriting my next post in a journal. Encoding sucks, but I always felt that the pieces I wrote on paper — by hand or with a typewriter — had a little bit more of a soul to them.

    Thank you very much for this nostalgic, almost melancholic piece in the context of our times, when all things old and beautiful are fast being replaced by new, newer, and newest.

  18. I drive my friends nuts. I cant pass the stationary section of anything without lookin for that magic perfect thing, pen or note book. But it is usually a Pilot G-2 07 for pen and a moleskin note book. The notebooks are on the pricey side but I love them. Recently I found a leather cover I also use from saddleback leather.so it adds a little class to the notebook plus that way I know which one is the current one. I have many notebooks laying around. There is something to putting pen to paper. Love the post.

  19. I guess there aren’t any new ideas under the sun. I’m writing an article on notebooks myself, though it’s not likely to be as scholarly as yours. I didn’t think that there were too many people left who preferred paper to electronic bytes. In fact, the handful of responders on this page are probably all that’s left. My notebooks aren’t fancy. Any old exercise book or spiral notebook will do. Sometimes I’ll jot an idea down on an envelope if nothing else is available.
    Terrific post

  20. I also predominantly use a notebook to write, but I think of it as a temporary draft before getting it onto my computer. So I use cheap composition books, and I scribble pictures, and write notes to myself, and don’t worry particularly about the longevity of the book itself. Also, figured out later on that it helps to have different colored covers for notebooks on different subjects.

  21. I think you make a wonderful point. While I love my technology, writing in notebooks are just more satisfying. I love looking back at old notebooks and seeing my creative mind work. I also agree that the inability to just draw mini-sketches on the computer is its main drawback. And writing with a good pen or pencil is magic of its own. How could you get that from a laptop?

  22. I typically use a 99 cent to $2 Mead Composition book, though the generic brands now have thinner cardboard covers, making me reconsider my notebook of choice from the past ten years. I usually reinforce the cover with black duct tape. I like a good pen – like a Pilot or Uniball gel pen. It’s worth the extra money. I probably spend more money on a single pen than the notebook.
    I got a tablet almost a year ago, and use that for adding to the current draft of my Work In Progress – it’s instantly typed!, and easier to read on a bus ride. However, when it comes to the development stage of writing, I prefer pen and paper. It’s much more free-form, and, as mentioned in the post, allows for doodles and lines to be drawn.

  23. even l dont use much :/ l like to look at those notebooks at shops…and sometimes l buy..it’s just much more enjoyable to write own hand…and l like sketching and drawing. and you’re right…finding after a while..last time l was at my parents’ house, l browsed my childhood notebooks, the memories my friends had written for me and stuff..was so peaceful…and the very funny literature things l’ve tried :)

  24. Excellent post. Makes me happy to see so many people in favor of writing the old-fashioned way. I’ve preferred writing in notebooks for years–it’s the only way I can think straight. I tend to go with the cheap-o Moleskine look-alikes from Staples, however, and they hold up well for me. That and the Pentel Energel.

  25. Reblogged this on The Goldsmith Project and commented:
    This is great! I have always used a notebook. Even more, I still use an agenda. A leather one which requires me to buy pages every year. My friends make fun of me as I pull out my notebook and agenda and they pull out their smart phones: I could care less. I have always used notebooks, always will! Whether it’s to write down ideas, designs, goals, or a grocery list, there’s nothing like getting what’s in your brain on paper. It’s therapeutic!

  26. I love this- I am definitely a notebook person! In my class of 36 people, I’m usually one of the only students without a laptop- I feel I can engage better with subject matter and won’t tempt myself with distractions on the Internet.

  27. Nice to hear from a fellow notebook-lover. I buy Swinton Ave. Trading Co composition books, which regularly sell for $1.99 at Office Depot and probably other office supply stores. In August and September, I can get them for 25 cents each–up to 4 at a time. I fill about 1 a month, so cost is an issue in my mind. I usually buy graph composition books as I can then use them for math problems and graphs of lines and parabolas. They have never failed and stand up to all manner of mistreatment. They have sewn bindings, a nice stiffness in the cover, and are about the right size and weight for my comfort. It never needs charging, the battery is never low, and I never feel conspicuous when someone looks over my shoulder as I’m the only person alive who can easily read my handwriting when I’m in a hurry. I will never be able to type on anything as quickly as I can write longhand. It isn’t possible. But someone who grew up on tablets may never learn to write as fast as I do on anything at all, especially if they don’t learn cursive. Writing on a computer still makes me feel what I write should be suitable for reading by others. It would make me grind my teeth to just dash out the kind of nonsense I’m willing to write longhand. That kind of sensibility will probably be different for younger people as well.

  28. Though I like to write in a notebook, I find my thoughts move too quickly and for fiction, I prefer to write on a computer, not to mention the knowledge that I’ll almost always type it up later anyway, so it feels like more work. A diary or a journal is completely different.
    Alas, I’m at the ‘buy the cheapest pad of paper that the ink doesn’t bleed through’ stage in life, mainly for financial reasons, so all my papers have to be in folders not notebooks, and aren’t half as easy to carry. One day I will be able to afford nice notebooks.
    one day….

  29. Loving this post – I’ve used the notes section of my iPhone for notes for so long but I’m tempted by this idea, especially since you’ve recommended a notebook (I kind of like having things that match, so I guess if all my notebooks were rhodia it would satisfy the my neat-freak side). Kind of hope I do turn out to be a “notebook person” as you say, seems like a nice sense of permanence.
    Thanks for the recommendation :)

  30. Just lovely. True appreciation of something seemingly so small, and yet so big. Really enjoyable post.

    Love the fact so much can go into a notebook, in all senses. Look at this piece.

    The pen is mightier than the stylus indeed.

  31. I grew up writing in longhand (I’m in my late 20s), and writing long letters to my parents and friends is something I still try to do. I keep stacks of notebooks readily available. Siblings and friends turn to me when they need notebooks and they don’t have time to go to the office supplies store. Unlined journals work better for me – there is something about a clean, blank slate that invites musings and creative reflections that is necessary to keep up with the plugged in, high-speed world. Also, before the advent of tablets and smartphones, it is easier to carry a notebook to write your reflections when you travel to far-flung places (imagine walking in barely there roads and riding in motorcycles going up mountains for hours while a big laptop is nestled in your backpack and you’ll really appreciate the notebook’s light weight).

    I still write my reports longhand before I type it on the computer. It is an editing process, transferring my preliminary thoughts and finding from paper to screen. I still am not adept at creating artworks and doodles on Photoshop, and doodling on paper is still the way to go.

    I’ve now reached the point where I create my own notebooks and annual planners – I design, sew, and bind my own notebooks. It becomes more personal, something reflecting your thoughts and thought process as well.

  32. “A notebook is the written equivalent of a face-to-face meeting. It has no distractions, no pop-up icons, and no software upgrades.” – Beautiful. :)

    Thank you for sharing! I’m looking forward to the next post. And, in case you haven’t come across him before, I think you might love the poetry of Wendell Berry (he’s my favorite).

  33. Sometimes we all need to break away from technology a little bit. While computers and smartphones do an infinite number of tasks that make life easier, sometimes paper is just as good or even better, and certainly more personable as you said.

  34. A very informative article, thanks! I have been moving away from Moleskine as well and I covered a paper (blank) notebook with leather. It is very durable yet the pages don’t lie flat nicely. The other option I have tried is cheaper notebooks with fewer pages. That way the notebook sees less wear until it can be archived on a bookshelf somewhere.

  35. Reblogged this on one small grain of sand. and commented:
    ironic, i know. i’m reblogging this post about the power of the notebook. i’m connected, i’m plugged in. but the author of this post has a point. there is a lot of power in the pen, a lot of energy in a bound grouping of lined white paper. easy to use. difficult to destroy. you’re free to write, draw, color, copy, and paste much more freely than any on computer or smartphone i’ve ever seen.

    “when you open your notebook… you’re going to see the page where you left off. maybe you’ll see another idea that reminds you of the one you’re working on, and you’ll combine the two in a novel way.”

    that connection doesn’t happen in the threads of emails you’ve been perusing all day. nor does it happen in the multiple tabs that you have open in your browser. i would argue that between people (especially those not working within the same walls of an office building), the pages of a website or the chain of emails are much more feasible than the ancient form of communication: inner-office mail. but when it comes to connecting with yourself, paper, is man’s best friend.

    so go. get a notebook. write down your thoughts. enjoy looking back. i think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  36. This is so great, thanks for posting. I’m a very technical graphic and production artist. I spend my day doing finite, technical medical charts, diagrams, and tables – I’m an artist with two left brains who prefers thinking and working safely inside the box. Yet, everywhere I go, I always have a small sketchbook and a Lamy Safari fountain pen. The only way I can cope with life as a pixel pusher is the also devote time during the day spilling ink and sketching away with a relative degree of reckless abandon. I culled my love for fountain pens from my days working at fountain pen stores like Art Brown and Fountain Pen Hospital in NYC – my day jobs while I freelanced as an artist in the evenings. I eventually was doing all of my sketching and drawing – and also writing – with fountain pens.

    Great post, and yeah; technology is just a big art supply. Ideas best come alive when then come out of the head and land on paper and not on a keyboard/laptop/tablet.smartphone, because unlike ideas, those aforementioned devices are smart and savy, but they’re not organic or human.

  37. Reblogged this on Sketchbook Warrior and commented:
    My blog is about sketching and drawing, but if you’ve been following it closely enough (and if you have been, then thank you!), then you know that I have a passion for art supplies, including fountain pens and small sketchbooks. The post that I am reblogging here popped up on the Freshly Pressed reader here on WordPress; the author captured beautifully why we love notebooks and pens – and to a deeper degree – the timeless analog “technology” that plays perfect landing pad to the human and organic thoughts that originate in our heads and seek to get out into the world and thrive.

    This is a great post and a great read; enjoy!

  38. Thank you for an interresting blog post. I always carry a Moleskine notebook. The experience to sit down and write my thoughts down is meditative. I agree that the smart phone is a distractive media. It will not replace the notepad in my world :)

  39. Pingback: Prefering Notebooks to Tablets « miguel in belgium

  40. Very thoughtful, I have noticed I write, and edit, differently on paper compared to on a computer screen. Incidentally when I moved into my current house, I found a Rhodia notebook left behind by the previous owner – a French professor (of course). I am in love with Rhodia now.

  41. Great post. I do believe that there is something about writing in notebooks/drawing in sketchbooks that is more physical, more bodily, and therefore more raw and honest than straight to keyboard/on-screen. I do use digital media, but, in the middle of the night, when you have an idea, it’s too late and dissipated by the time the computer is fired up.

  42. I just enjoy scrawling. There’s nothing like reflecting on the past by flicking through an old notebook.

    I think it’s especially important for children to continue to write rather than type as most exams are written-tests. Also, studies report that you remember information more if you physically write it down.

  43. This right here is very very true!
    One thing also is that computers/laptops/cellphones can get hacked thus the hacker can delete, steal or even expose your important files on the internet.

    And notebooks do not need electricity to function. So in case of failure in electricity, you do not lose the files you are working on and you will still be able to see the files you have written.

  44. I carry with me four notebooks every day, every where. They rest beside me like loyal dogs in the house, sleep on my headboard at night, and hide in my purse when I’m out and about. While I would love to say that each has a specific purpose, that’s only marginally true (with luck, after I fill the oldest, which will happen any line now, the focuses will narrow). However, regardless of the reasons for their number, the point remains: my precious notebooks mean more to me than most anything else in my life. That said, their importance is tied with my hard drive’s. The reason for this is relatively simple: the notebooks are the beginning and the computer’s contents are what they grow into. Ink words marinate in the time between their inception and the eventual typed transference to the computer. That gap is a necessary one to combat demons like over-editing and missed inspiration (a notebook is less demanding companion than a laptop, tablet, or phone). In short, I wholeheartedly concur with your answer to an unnecessary either-or scenario; both notebooks and word processors are of equal import depending on the situation.

  45. The Rhodia book is the best notebook I’ve come across, but its paper isn’t fountain pen-proof. Unlike Rhodia paper in a pad, the paper in the webnotebook can bleed and feather.

  46. I am a huge fan of the notebook! Like you said, their is something so tactile about putting pen to paper! And the ability to doodle as you think – I don’t think I will ever give it up! In fact, I have a pile of different ones that I use. I love the coloured covers and all sorts of different fabrics. When I am done writing – I can close the book and feel like something has been achieved. It is so fun to randomly pick up an old journal and thumb through the entries….bits of paper fall out like a stub from a show that got pushed in among the pages, and memories flood back! Don’t get me wrong, I now have all the toys – smart phone, laptop, iPad….but I still love to use my notebook! I can see from so many comments that I am not alone!

  47. There’s something very personal and intimate about penning down your thoughts, in your own handwriting. As you get through the third draft of whatever piece of prose or poetry that you are writing, there’s a certain pleasure that you derive from looking back at scratched-out words, replaced words, a tiny note jotted down in a corner lest you forget. The final product may be perfect but you get to look back at how you created something flawless from a stream of unformed, as-yet-incomplete thoughts and inspirations.

    I’m somewhat old-school myself when it comes to the medium of writing. I could never have an online journal. I just have to write that down in my own handwriting.

    This is so very well written. I can relate with so much that you’ve mentioned here. Recently I went looking for a ‘scrap book’. What I had in mind was a large bound book, lined or not lined it didn’t matter, with browned pages – I was going for a rustic look. Unfortunately all I found in a modern book shop were diaries and elementary school note books. Hardly the type that I wanted to pen down my ideas and famous quotes.

    A tablet may be very useful in its own ways. But honestly it cannot replace the connection you need to feel as you convert jumbled thoughts in your head onto a medium. The medium has to be as imperfect and blemished as your thoughts. A notebook that is dog-eared and filled with multiple drafts, paragraphs that are as-yet unconnected, carries that initial sense of rudimentary thought process.

    Thanks for writing this. I loved it!

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  50. Amazing article! Very interesting to read. I am very surprised to hear that coming from Steve Jobs himself the creator of Apple, one of the biggest technology companies out there. I agree all the way nevertheless, a notebook is something personal, perhaps simple, but can inspire ones mind. After reading this I feel that I myself should start using a notebook, basic pen and paper to take down notes instead of the internet. No distractions what so ever, a way to let your minds thoughts flow out freely.

  51. love this. so true!

    I have about 3 notebooks floating around in my ridiculously ginormous bag, one of art ideas, one of things to do, and one that I can always find easier than the other 2, as it is larger and an awkward size and shape. I hate using my phone for lists, as the click of a button marking something off is far less satisfying than, say furiously scribbling out something I felt hatred towards, like paying a large sum of money or visiting the post office.

  52. I love this!
    Nothing stimulates thought more than writing on real paper with a real pen. I own many notebooks: a cheap one for on-the-go notes and writing down ideas, a ciak journal, a paperblank book for my own poetry, another (small) paperblank for songs (I’m a singer), and a cheap one for article drafts. I prefer to write either with a fountain pen (waterman, with green ink) or a pencil (because it writes faster). There aren’t many things more agreeable than writing with a good pen on good paper in a beautiful notebook…
    As far as quality goed: paperblanks are as far as I am concerned the most beautiful notebooks on the planets, with good paper, but the tend to detoriate and loose their glamour if they travel a lot. Which my songbook does.
    Ciak, which I haven’t seen anyone referring to yet, keep very well and their paper is even better. They are quite expensive but I would recommend them to anyone. They are like moleskine but of a higher and more constant quality. The paper is a bit rough, making it perfect for fountain pen.

  53. What I really like about this post is that the latter half is spent in discussing the various options available in the notebook market, akin to reviews of electronic notebooks by the gizmo geeks. I enjoy a notebook because doodling in one is a better stress buster than drawing silly scenery on MS-Paint. Ideas seem more intellectual in a notebook than on a laptop. Moreover, laptops rather than aiding in completion of tasks often distract with requirements of deletion, addition, installment and all those mundane laptop-y stuff. A notebook provides for structure, articulation and a non-misplaced sense of intellectual-ism.

  54. I’ve said many of the same things regarding this sort of low-volatility analog data storage, and I’m glad to find I’m not the only one thinking this way. If I were to disagree on any point, it would be the entirely trivial one regarding the disagreement of the edges of the pages and the cover. I could even agree that there’s aesthetic basis for having the pages run out to the edge, but from a standpoint of function, the overlap of the cover preserves the pages from hazards– another virtue of Rhodia’s wonderful book, rather than a flaw.

    Minor, vanishingly small, diversity of opinion aside, though, your entry has me alive with admiration. Let’s hope you inspire some converts.

  55. I am a pen and paper kind of girl, love the tactility and smell … my books may not all be black and I often use a pencil but I will never go completely digital

  56. Spot on – I use whiteboards to brainstorm, notebooks to ‘note’ down quick ideas, half-considered thoughts, little bullet points and outlines, and the computer when I’m ready to pull it altogether.

    I grew up with computers in full-flight, but I carry around my notebooks (and graph paper) because it grounds my reality.

    Thanks for articulating that fact so well.

  57. I used to have notebooks long time ago. Right now, I’m all digital. Everything on the cloud. I can work through different device, computers. Schedules, ideas, writings, everything on the cloud. They are great for back up. Searching and organization. Where is my pen?

  58. i love your blog and like you i love technology but also love notebooks a have a few myself, i have started to open my eyes and realize there are a lot of people out there ! that like notebooks for a short time i was stating to think i was in a very small group of people but i am not ! keep blogging i will be back

    regards Mark

  59. This is so true! I’d still preferred using notebook sometimes. It’s handy and easy to handle. As a matter of fact, computer notebooks and laptops aren’t good in our hands when we spend taking time to use it. They’re more heavier to carry as well compared to a paper notebook. BTW! Thanks for the reminder. You did great!

  60. I love this post. I brainstorm in a journal, normally leather with no lines- yes I am this specific, on the boardwalk a few blocks from my house. People look at me like I’m insane. They make comments to their spouse about me “writing in my diary.” They speculate what I am writing about. They smile and make snarky little comments about me being a dork. They tell me they think my nostalgia is darling.

    It is completely entertaining and only ads to my creative juices… but the strong reactions started to freak me out… I actually wondered if I was going to be able to buy my precious notebooks anymore. I know I was being a little melodramatic, but still the thought did cross my mind. Anyways, you put the thought to rest. Great post and I well check out your journal recommendations!

  61. I have at least six notebooks on the go – to do lists mostly – and they really help me keep my tasks and projects separated from each other. I recently left two of my notebooks (one regarding my elderly father’s health, the other regarding the sale of his property) in his care home and I was utterly lost! In reality all of the information and phone numbers etc., were probably stored somewhere else, but it was the loss of the physical information that really threw me. They were found, thank goodness, and I am happily making notes again. The creative writing notebooks I have are a treasure. Often best left to mature for a good long period of time, the creativity they spark upon re-reading is a joy.


  62. I always take notebooks when going to workshops and trainings, because, they remind me not only of what was said but the place and the situation, how I felt at the time…. and they give that sense of a building up of knowledge. I can look from one to another and see, this is where I began, this is where I went, this is where I am currently.

  63. Great article. I too am torn between technology and what seem to be anachronisms of the past. I use a hard-bound notebook for my journaling, and have found that the Moleskines don’t work for me, as I use a fountain pen and the paper isn’t ideal for that. I work for a very large design firm and nearly EVERYONE uses bound notebooks for ideas, sketches and notes.

    I, on the other hand, have used PDAs of various flavors since the original Palm in 1998. While it was liberating, the loss of notes to to system crashes or changing technology and incompatible systems has been occasionally maddening. As good as the iPad is as a note-taking devise, the longevity bothers me and I’m slowly (ever so slowly) considering the switch to paper.

    Thanks for the excellent, well-considered post!

  64. Perfect post on something so many of us obviously couldn’t abandon for an alternative technology. The pen and a black notebook are just the tactile stock of life for the artist, the writer, the chronicler, the poet, the dreamer.

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  67. I love this post. I’m a notebook addict. I have various ones on the go at all times, each with its own purpose. And a new, blank notebook is a wonderful thing, full of promise. All those clean pages waiting to be written on… waiting to contain thoughts that I will look back on in years to come.

  68. Your post hits home to me on many levels. Thank you…I keep notepads in my back pocket to remind me I’m a writer, and at my best, I go through one in a couple months, then stow it in a shoebox in my closet (I have been for 20 years). It’s a great way to archive old shopping lists :) …but seriously, there’s also something to the notion of drawing out your problems on paper first, before you enter a blank PPT template. My mind seizes up automatically when I open a new file, on the desktop. Best to you and yours in ’13 – Bill

  69. Absolutely agree!! I’ve kept a journal since I was 14 years old and even though I’m surrounded by iPads, laptops and smart phones writing things in my special PAPER bound books feels fresher much more real and defiantly more private!! Even still carry a thousand mini notepads in my bag for ramblings and makes me feel much more special then all the Apple lemmings!! Love your points :)

  70. I keep three journals. One for each of my children. I write them several letters each week. Finally, one for me. It’s full of simple thoughts. But it sparks my creativity.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

  71. Fabulous post!!! I too love notebooks… AND the computer. I am writing a memoir and find I reach for my notebooks time and time again to write my thoughts before I lose the thought. I keep them in my car, on the empty side of my bed, in the kitchen and more. You never know when a thought will occur. I use the computer when I am ready to REALLY write the book… using my notebooks as reference. I have one notebook dedicated as a daily journal. I hope my kids will read it when I’m gone.

  72. As a defiant user of a (moleskine, poseure) diary and a notebook, this is a lovely piece. The one small advantage that computers do have over notebooks, however, is the ability to back them up, as I currently know from a friend who is still in deep mourning for a notebook-cum-diary dropped in a London station somewhere…

  73. I always carry my Rhodia webbie everywhere. It’s really great for use with fountain pens! Writing by hand just feels different. My tablet (+ bluetooth keyboard!) can never replace it.

    Great post. :)

  74. I used to carry a notebook with me everywhere; I preferred the large size moleskine with blank pages. But I started writing less and writing more notes than sentences, so I switched back to plain old composition books. If only I could find those with blank pages, that would be perfect!

  75. I have a love of all things notebook, in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a problem. I’m a listomaniac. There, I said it. I’ve had it my whole life, and I’m not about to quit. Notebooks are everywhere in my house, car, and past. My clutch, gotta have it, go-to notebook being the super cute one I keep in my wallet. It’s a kraft brown moleskin I made that much more fantastic with scraps of fabric sewn across the front. I have stick on tabs that divide every aspect of my life; to do, me, my small business, my kids, those suggestions that people blurt out about movies, songs, and books, writing, guitar songs I want to learn, and house.
    I’m also one of those people that adds something I did onto my to-do list if it wasn’t there already, just so I can have the sheer gratification of crossing it off. That may be another problem all together, jury’s still out.
    I’ve tried to put my thoughts into my smart phone, but somewhere, deep in the bowels of my sd card, they remain stealth like and unable to be found by me. Alas it is back to the notebook, always and forever. True love always. And yes, I do love it so much, I just might marry it.

  76. I have a large collection of notebooks: full-up ones, half-used ones, unopened still-in-the-cellophane ones. I have small notebooks for when I’m out and about (for addresses, prices of things I’ve seen in the shops and might consider buying later, to record snippets of interesting conversations, etc), large notebooks for writing/studying and special notebooks with leather/faux leather covers which only get used for special things (e.g. never to see the light of day poetry, life goals lists).

    I will continue to use notebooks if only for the fun of looking back after a time to marvel at myself – did I really write, think, feel that! A word document is just too easily edited. I edit as a write, if I check back at a later date I seem to edit something every time I open the file, there just isn’t the same sense of permanence as my notebooks.

  77. Wow–what a great read….as a writer i have always carried a notebook. The singularness of it appeals to me in this ever-changing tech world. It is simply a blank canvas, waiting for me to fill it as I choose. There are no sounds of technology beckoning my distraction and the simple permanence of paper and ink, accessible without any power other than my imagination, is oddly comforting. Love my mac, love my i-phone. Nothing will ever replace the beautiful simplicity of putting pen to paper.

  78. Until recently, despite being able to type at a very high and accurate rate of speed, I have always preferred either sketching, or writing out by hand, anything I intended to publish. There is, for me, a tactile advantage and satisfaction in writing by hand, which isn’t as readily accessed or experienced through the process of typing. Writing is an integrative, cooperative, deliberative process; but typing, for me, is simply the most convenient and rapid expression of my unbridled thought… I’ve also found that “hand sketching” improves the immediate quality of my writing. I don’t have to go back and revise as many times. I enjoyed and appreciated your post very much. This is something I need to explore further…

  79. Thanks for your post! I love notebooks and have started to carry one around everywhere very recently. I love the potential they hold a container of ideas!!

  80. I transformed the way I write. I left notebooks for digital writing. Once I realized I was limiting myself and thinking I began to write on notebooks, again. I quickly noticed that I was connected to myself when writing on a notebook. It feels natural. Now I combine both notebook and writing with computers. I use a Smartpen to record everything on my notebook this way I have a backup of my ideas and writings. The one thing I regret, however, is the fact that I lost a lot of my notebooks and having to start all over again. Main point is that notebooks, no matter the technology, cannot be beaten.

  81. As a writer, I couldn’t agree more! There are times the words just won’t come out unless I am handwriting them in my notebook – and don’t get me started on my favorite pens. Since I’m young and so many around me are obsessed with the technology so close at hand, I loved seeing this post.

  82. I agree as well. More thoughts come to when I have a pen in hand and writing in my notebook. I don’t have anyone interrupting me like I would on the computer. People are too hyped up on technology and forget about a pen and notebook. I write for at least 2 hours a day but not always in a notebook but I get more written when I do use my notebook.

  83. I’ve tried using various digital journals for writing, but I find that paper to pen feels more connected and personal. It causes me to write with more feeling and emotion. I love Moleskines and a good leather bound jornal with great quality paper and a G2 pen.

  84. I have a MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and several notebooks that I pretty much carry with me wherever I go. (I had a Kindle too, but my wife stole it.) Each one serves a unique purpose for me: the laptop for producing content (writing, photography), and the iPad for consuming content (reading, music, email), and the iPhone for quick reference, organization, communication, and Angry Birds. While the digital devices help me connect with others are share information and content, the notebooks are for me. I can write my thoughts that I don’t want to make public knowledge on my blog(s), write down ideas that need to be further developed, doodle bad drawings that I wouldn’t want anyone else to see, and I can muse over silly, politically incorrect, or otherwise inappropriate matters that should not become public knowledge. Your notebook will know more about you than your blog, twitter, or facebook profile ever will, because since you know it is your own you can make yourself vulnerable to it. Even if I lost it and someone opened it up, I doubt they would be able to decipher my chicken scratch anyway.

    My system may seem a bit redundant at times, but that’s also by design. I feel like I can work more efficiently with all of them at my disposal, but I can also easily reconfigure depending on workspace availability (Starbucks), partial casualty (low batteries), or environmental conditions (power outages, sandy beaches), or what have you. Digital devices are certainly convenient, but since everything is backed up on dropbox, the cloud, or in various inboxes, any one device can become obsolete, lost, stolen, or broken, and can eventually be replaced. I consider my notebooks and their content indispensable.

  85. It’s almost like kismet:) Would you believe that just today I mailed a notebook – not a big one or composition-sized, but a little pad. In this notebook were thoughts and feelings – unabridged, no spell check, gee, I did not even proof read it. I spent a few days of writing words to someone that I need to communicate with and I chose this ‘venue’ because I felt it more personal, intimate and ‘present in the moment’ I filled about a third of the pages and left the rest blank, reason being that I know he likes writing his personal thoughts in little notebooks. In the years that i have known him, all of our correspondence has been in email or text form. I figured I would give a true piece of me. Whatever he chooses to do with the rest is completely up to him.

    I very much enjoyed reading this entry – thank you:)

  86. I’ve loved notebooks since I was a teenager! My only problem now, my hand hurts after I’ve written a page because I’m not used to writing long hand anymore, I’m used to typing. I’m always sad when I’m writing along furiously and my body lets me down when all I want to do is write in a notebook! I love them for their portability, and the fact that you can time travel with them to a time when you felt a certain way. You can see the way you were writing, either in a hurry, angry, calm. It’s fascinating and it can’t be changed or updated, like you mention electronic writing can. Awesome post. I love that someone is writing about how awesome notebooks are!

  87. The screen on my laptop is roughly about an arms length away from my face. When I’m using my Iphone, the screen is again roughly about an arms length (or less if my arm is bent) away from my face. That is a lot of flickering light at close distance to be exposed to everyday on the “norm”. Wonder what that must do to someones brain…..Etc, etc, etc…..Now that humans stare at computer monitors 75% of the day, we are most likely influencing human evolution toward higher epilepsy & seizure rates.

    Long live the notebook.

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  92. I love the Rhodia notebooks. I just bought a Quiver pen holder (www.quiverglobal.com) so I have my pen always available. I agree with so many of your thoughts about the written word. I like to go back and see my handwriting and doodles and see if they matched my mood.

    • I like them too—I just wish the lines went to the edge of the page. I actually sent Rhodia’s US Distributor and Clairefontaine, the French company that makes the notebooks, an e-mail to that effect.

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