I am endlessly fascinated with all things geeky: friends laugh at me for the frequency of new (and always improved) cell phones that dangle from my hip (no, I don’t have an iPhone—iPod, yes; iPhone no). I’ve been using PDAs since they were unsightly gray things with dim gray screens and dark gray text. I mystify my other middle-aged friends with my fluency in the sort of 'Net-ese that their kids speak as they scratch their heads wondering when the “Google” became a word, much less a verb; and “Wiki” ceased to be a sort of patio furniture made of woven bamboo. ("Oh, 'wiki' not 'wicker,' they will realize eventually, still scratching their heads). I proudly have Vista Ultimate and Office 2007, including my always-open Microsoft Outlook. (I’m not quite cool enough to have a Mac.) I have all but abandoned paper books for the cool Amazon Kindle that has become my constant companion. It currently contains about 10 novels, the last three issues of Time magazine and today’s New York Times.
I am appreciative of the high-tech toys and tools that enable me to create. Music appears effortlessly notated on Sibelius or Finale, where Ellington standards transpose themselves magically to my vocal key with the mere click of a button. I don't even have to say "please." And as for writing…
My first professional writing gig was for a nationally-circulated 120-page monthly (business) magazine. As an associate editor, I was responsible for one-third of the magazine’s editorial content. Sounds more impressive than it actually was. Big title, lots of responsibility, high pressure. Very little money. And typewriters. Anyone remember those? Gigantic IBM Selectrics. They had those little white correction ribbons. Which was a great innovation, if you weren’t typing on a five-layer packet of copy paper. And I don't mean the kind of copy paper that goes into the photocopy machine. It was carbon-coated paper onto which you typed your work. It was a time-intensive and painful experience until you learned to be a very good first draft writer.
Like many writers, I embraced the invention of the word processor as virtual manna from heaven. I can’t even imagine (and barely remember) life without word processing. In my opinion, the best invention in history was Microsoft Word for Windows. WYSIWYG, and a whole new world (as the song goes).
Yet as I wax poetic, extolling the joys and virtues of my high-tech world, where my entire address book is stuffed weightlessly in my BlackBerry; my email is zipped to me at lunch or waiting in carpool line, I confess that there are some things that are better in real, rather than virtual, life. Take my calendar for example. Try as I might (and try I have) I simply cannot get along without a hard copy of my appointment book.
I am a very visual person and I have to see my week spread out in front of me. I can’t scroll, click and maneuver my way around a virtual calendar with the same ease as I can cross out, scribble notes and draw arrows on my big old paper calendar. Admittedly, I used the computer (an Excel spreadsheet) to create my own customized, but printed out, desk planner, with all of my recurring appointments automatically slotted in. But I can’t make the leap to the purely virtual world. Even something as simple as changing a client’s appointment works better in hard copy. It’s easier, quicker and more efficient. No? Don’t believe me? I herein make my case to you. (Oooh. I feel like I’m going to do a re-enactment of that great old folk song John Henry—you know the one where the mythical John Henry picked up his hammer and pitted his strength against a steam-driven machine). This time it’s stylus (or thumbs for you smart phone mavens) vs. pencil and eraser.
The virtual challenge: move appointment with John Henry (for the sake of poetic justice) from 3:00 p.m. Monday to 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Electronic calendar (be it PDA, smart phone, not-so-smart phone, or Outlook). Step 1: Open appointment. “Do you wish to open this instance or the entire series?” asks EC (electronic calendar). Oh yeah, I forgot to disclose that John Henry has a “weekly” appointment with me. And he wants to change just this week’s appointment. Step 2: I point to “this instance” and click. Steps 3-7: Several more clicks and mis-clicks, do-overs and think I’m done. Oops. I just made his new appointment for 2009. Damn. Repeat steps one through seven. This time for sure. Phew. Got it. Elapsed time: three minutes.
Paper calendar. One of those Week-at-a-Time thingies. Cross out John Henry on Monday. Write him in on Thursday. Done. Elapsed time: 25 seconds. See what I mean?
But something keeps compelling me to try going virtual. Earnest attempt after earnest attempt. The result usually is that half of my appointments are written in ink on my desk calendar at the office; and half are electronically stored on my BlackBerry. The main problem with this scenario is that you can’t synch a BlackBerry with a paper calendar.
What someone really needs to invent is an electronic/ink hybrid. Write your notes in a pen that magically inputs it into Outlook, which can then synch back to your phone or PDA. So you can go both ways. Or either way. Electronic pen flowing ink onto the page and pixels into Outlook. I’d be in (a very organized version of) heaven. And ever so grateful.