30 June 2006

Tyranny of the e-Majority

There once was a man with a Palm,
To whom, tech was a balm.
Then his hard drive was lost,
All his data was tossed.
Ah, paper: no storm, just calm.

I’m no luddite. I have an iPod; three digital still cameras; a digital camcorder; a cell phone; a personal laptop; a personal desktop; an office laptop; a Blackberry; a desperate, childish desire for a Nintendo DS Lite; a gnawing urge to drop my personal laptop “accidentally” onto a concrete slab in order to justify a new one; and a spouse who doesn’t understand any of this.

But there is one area of my life in which I have rejected technology: My Filofax. I’ve already recorded my reasons for rejecting the Device, and embracing paper. But in the months since then, it has become increasingly clear that paper users are second-class citizens in the workplace. I work in an Outlook office. I used to be an Outlook devotee. And, as long as I spent all my time at my desktop, it worked fine. Handy reminders popped up. Group meetings were easy to schedule. But I found it cumbersome to extend those conveniences away from my desktop. Paper offered a perfect solution for me. I can carry my Filofax everywhere. No boot-up times. No battery exhaustion. Random access, perfectly implemented. Fewer worries about data loss. (I am not so na├»ve as to believe the Filofax is a “safe” repository. As a human who sometimes exhibits unusual levels of cluelessness, I can’t discount the possibility that I will lose it, or drop it into a vat of boiling oil, or accidentally toss it from an airplane at 30,000 feet. However, I am comforted by my awareness of my weaknesses, my ability to compensate for them, and the fact that I no longer fear the vicissitudes of a hard drive platter that could turn one degree off-kilter at a moment’s notice.)

Paper is my way. Why can’t my office let me be?

Since I work in an Outlook office, I often receive invitations to meetings, which upon acceptance are automatically placed in my Outlook calendar. That doesn’t both me too much. I can simply ignore the Outlook calendar and write the data in my Filofax. (Although the off-handedness of the widespread assumption that we all use Outlook reminds me of my fourth grade teacher, who offhandedly told us to gather in a circle in our public school classroom for prayer. “What’s the big deal?” she probably thought.)

What irks me is when people say, “Oh, yes, let’s have a meeting. Philofaxer, why don’t you send around an Outlook appointment?” Look, I don’t use Outlook. I don’t want to use Outlook. I really don’t care if you do. You manage your appointments however you want. But don’t force them on me. I am a paper man. I will write down my own damn appointments. You can inscribe yours on a tablet, or memorize them mnemonically, or hire a personal valet to keep track of them. Whatever. Just let me be.

But they don’t. Nor do I object, since that would require a spine. And I have to create some stupid Outlook appointment and send it around, and then deal with automated responses as people “accept” it.

I can’t believe the drafters of the Constitution forgot to include Freedom of Personal Planning. Time to start lobbying Congress.


  1. Freedom of Personal Planning! That's so true. Philofaxer, your posts are always so darned coherent. And you write poetry, too.

    I'm too discouraged and intimidated to even comment on your posts. But I do it anyway.

  2. I'm not forced to use electronic invitations in Outlook or any one program. If I did, I might be more irate about being forced to use that particular piece of software.

    As it is, I am forced to do a number of things electronically that are completely removed from my Filofax life. For example, when I ask for time off, I not only have to make all the arrangements with my boss by phone or email (we're not at the same location), I have to put in for the time off in a clumsy online HR app, post my absence in a department calendar on a different Web site, and go back to my email program to deal with a vacation message and/or forwarding. And those are just the things I can remember right now. There are probably more.

    I'm philosophical about it. I use my Filofax to remind me of all the electronic stuff I need to do. And I allow time to do it, the same way I make a mental note to keep quarters in my purse for parking meters and the like, because not only do they not take bills or ATM, they don't take dimes or nickels. And heaven forbid we have a 1.00 coin like every other civilized nation... Oh well. The more I can mentally and physically automate things like that, using as little psychic bandwidth as possible, the better. While being alert for learned helplessness (my personal bugaboo), that's the best I can do.

    Here's another way I look at it. When I first bought a 2-story home (3 if you count the finished basement) after several years of living in one-level apartments, I had trouble keeping shoes on! When you kick off your shoes in a flat, you don't have to go far to find them. When you kick off your shoes in a multi-storey building, all of a sudden when you need to put them back on, they're two floors away. For a few months, I had several pair of unoccupied shoes on every floor of my house, and never seemed to have the right ones on my feet when I needed them -- if any. For a few months, one of my main goals in life was developing a system for keeping track of my shoes.

    Now, years later, it's become automatic. All of the shoes I own are in my closet, except for maybe a seasonal pair by the back door and the ones on my feet. More important, I always know where all my shoes are at any given moment, and I'm never more than a few steps away from being shod. I no longer have to devote any mental bandwidth to knowing where my shoes are.

    I guess what I'm saying is, I hope you find a way to treat Outlook invitations that way. Find a way to deal with the necessary evil so that it goes from being a pain in the patutti to something you can do almost without thinking.

  3. Actually, for me it's the other way around: so much comes at me via Outlook, that I live with the inconvenience of extending it to non-work parts of my life, rather than the other way around.

    Of course, the fact that I have NO chance of getting to the meeting without a reminder might have something to do with that.

  4. Hi Andy! How do you extend it? Do you use Outlook for all your calendars?

    I'm a Mac person, so I don't use Outlook, and I've never had to use it for work. If I were on Windows, I think I'd be sorely tempted to use Outlook.

    Have you tried printing from Outlook? I wonder if you can make relatively attractive calendar pages for a Filo with it.