For a few years now a lot of people have been spending exorbitant amounts of money on notebooks: think brands like Red ‘n’ Black, Moleskine and, more recently, the TV adverts for Oxford Notebooks. I’ve fallen for this consumerism twice, buying a Moleskine notebook, and for two Christmases in a row I’ve received another Moleskine notebook, and more generally there’s a charm here of the romanticism of classic stationary. This isn’t hyper-expensive pens or letter-writing paper but simple (yet overpriced) notebooks and niceish pens that a lot of people have been getting into.

At various points in my degree I’ve been tempted back into writing notes on paper for what are essentially romantic reasons. The idea of having all one’s notes in a notebook is appealing, because it reminds you of great authors from the past such as Wittgenstein writing his Tractatus in the trenches or a young man or woman exploring a European city and making notes and sketches, and who can forget Indiana Jones’ father’s epic notebook. The thought is that “if they managed their academic work this way, I can too” but you know, I know I have a bad memory, why not get more information down and be in a better position to make use of it?

Oxford strengthens this effect with various draconian rules on laptops: several libraries won’t let you use a laptop aside from special areas, or if they are a bit less strict they just have laptop-free zones. In Balliol’s library there are sockets but they are hidden away; the library is a mezzanine so there are railings around the edge because the windows are the height of the original room, and the plug sockets and ethernet ports are hidden over the edge. Or they were, until the library realised that almost everyone uses a laptop so they needed more sockets and replaced these with massive socket enclosures in the middle of the (really nice) tables.

All this dropped away from me at some point last year and I realised that actually, modernity is the way to go on this one. In almost all situations electronic paper, if you like, is ten times better than real paper, and we should realise this. Most students can type faster than they can write, and the two big advantages are that electronic copies can be re-organised and better stored: you can move text around, you can backup your stuff, and barely take up any space.

There are some exceptions. When taking notes with other people around in a class or talk, using a computer can be off-putting: it can suggest that you’re not fully concentrating and it can make you write down too much because you can, and you probably don’t need to because that is not what classes are for. And obviously Maths and Science will need paper for their calculations, which is different.

Here’s an extreme of this: Going Paper-Free for $220 / Steve Losh

Here’s another link I catagorised with this post; not sure why. I think it’s got the wrong end of the stick: Bufr Overflow: Please, make yourself uncomfortable. The discussion on Hacker News is really interesting, showing all sides.