Digital and analog technology

Everything we create and share online depends on digital technology. Digital writing tools such as personal computers and word processing software get a lot of attention in magazines, blogs, and videos. Writing about these complex and expensive tools is a huge industry.

Old-fashioned analog writing depends on relatively primitive technology, and it remains important in daily life. For example, we make shopping lists, post reminders on refrigerator doors, and sometimes keep handwritten diaries or journals. When I am walking outdoors or sitting in a coffee shop, I often record my ideas in paper notebooks. Many of my best ideas and deepest insights have first appeared on paper.

Analog writing tools are not expensive, and they do not become obsolete. They get much less attention than aggressively marketed digital hardware and software; nevertheless, analog writing technology continues to improve in a competitive market. We can find many detailed reviews of stationery products and serious discussions about the “best” tools for various kinds of writing.

Digital vs. analog texts

Digital texts are not physical objects. We can access texts only when they are rendered into perceivable objects such as pixels on a computer display, printed ink on paper, tactile patterns on Braille readers, audio output from speech readers, etc. This characteristic of digital text enables people to communicate through writing in various forms, regardless of time, space, and limitations of perception.

Analog texts are created with kinetic energy applied to physical objects, for example, by pressing ends of sticks into clay tablets, chiseling away portions of stone, or applying ink to paper with a brush. Regardless of media, analog texts are material objects that we can directly perceive and manipulate.

Digital vs. analog writing

Digital writing enables efficient modification, transfer from one place to another and one medium to another, transformation into various formats, and storage for local and networked access. Nearly all of my writing is digital, usually input with a pain text editor on either a small laptop computer or a workstation with a large display. When necessary I write with an Apple iPad or iPhone, which I find slow and frustrating.

Analog writing applies ink, graphite, etc. to a surface, usually paper. Editing is difficult unless extra space is added between lines, as in a double-spaced manuscript for an academic paper.

I grew up in an analog world. With poor grades in penmanship, I struggled to make my handwritten work legible. I did all of my formal writing with a typewriter until I was well into my professional career.

As the world became increasingly digital, I embraced new technologies as an “early adopter” and even taught digital writing and text processing to university students. Nevertheless, analog tools for handwriting very are useful, even liberating in some situations. I carry one or two notebooks wherever I go.

My favorite analog writing tools

Journal notebook (A5) & pen

I use a journal notebook for several purposes. First, I log sequences of events that I experience or observe. Second, I take notes of meetings, lectures, etc. Third, I keep a journal for free writing, e.g., illustrations of ideas, observations, insights, text fragments for essays, and sometimes even poetry. I date each entry and sometimes record my location. I have tried digital tools for each of these purposes, but paper notebooks are more convenient. For many years I used B5 spiral notebooks, but now I prefer smaller and more portable A5 notebooks.

Kokuho Soft Ring 6mm ruled 50 sheets A5 (ス-SV331BT-D)

A5 journal notebook

uni-ball Signo 0.7 mm gel ink pen (Mitsubishi Pencil)

Gel ink pen

Weatherproof pocket notebook & mechanical pencil

When I go outdoors, usually with a camera, I carry a small weatherproof notebook for field notes. It is also useful for sharing information with people I meet. For example, I can write the URL of my blog, rip out that page, and give it to someone. Likewise, someone else can write directly in my notebook to give me, for example, an email address or the name of a good coffee shop.

Rite in the Rain All-Weather Top Spiral Notebook 3×5 (76×131 mm) No. 135

Weatherproof pocket notebook

Uni Kuru Toga Advance Metal mechanical pencil (Mitsubishi Pencil)

Mechanical pencil

The pleasures of analog writing

Analog writing gives me pleasure and satisfaction beyond its mundane usefulness. The act of writing brings out ideas and ways of expressing them in words that seem more spontaneous than when I write write with digital tools. Reviewing past entries is very informative. I can easily flip through journals that I filled last year or 20 years ago. Finally, selecting paper and writing instruments is a satisfying and low-cost activity. Stationery shops offer a brief respite from the pressures of life.

Published by Greg Peterson

Professor Emeritus, Kyoto Notre Dame University (1977-2020). Since 1980 I have lived in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, where I enjoy outdoor activities, especially photography, hiking, and cycling.

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