Rise of the Geeks

by Karine Tovmassian

September 2016

The Planner Subculture in 2016: Why The Geeks Have Gathered

Not too long ago, I was chastised for bringing a planner/organizer to a meeting. “Really? You are coming in to our meeting with that?” Of all the ways to insult someone nowadays, and trust me, there are plenty of ways, apparently, bringing an analogue paper planner to a meeting where laptops and smartphones abound is just about one of the most rebellious acts one can pursue. Whilst my paper planner sat on the conference table, and my hand took brief notes, others sent silent messages via smartphone under the table, their eyes engrossed in their crotches, some played games, others click-clacked on their laptop keyboards, creating a static, anxious peanut gallery rising to a crescendo upon the speakers last few words of each segment of his talk. There can be no greater respect provided during a meeting than actually listening, undistracted, to what the speaker is saying and providing eye contact creating dynamic interaction while seated. My darlings, the underground movement of analogue devices is afoot and the geeks are organized.

I’m excited to be presenting at the First Annual PlannerCon in March of 2017 in San Fransisco, California USA. Yes, the geeks have ONE MORE something-Con to go to. In preparation for my talk, I have been collecting all kinds of wonderful data on the variations and usage of humans and their planners. In fact, the presentation I am preparing is being written in one of my planners. The information written in my planner is accessible much quicker than digital formats and can be digitized on demand. Don’t believe me? Let’s have a little race, shall we? You get your smartphone and I’ll get my planner. On ‘go’ we shall both attempt to retrieve a note we have saved, you on your smartphone and me in my paper planner.

Go!

I’ve had this race with a few incredulous colleagues and, inevitably, the digital devices lose every time. By the time they are done tapping in their passcodes, or letting their fingerprint unlock their phones, I am already flipped to the single tab in my planner that reads “Notes.”

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In a world where digital devices are already obsolete by the time they reach the hands of insatiable consumers, the lowly analogue paper planner chugs along, maintaining viability from time immemorial. Shall I reference cave paintings? The Rosetta Stone? Cuniform tablets? All predecessors to the the brilliantly simple notebook. Would we have Galileo’s beautiful drawings of our sun’s spots had he not documented them on paper? Manuscripts, poems, essays, names etched on tree trunks, prehistoric graffiti all lead toward an undeniable fact that human beings want to express their creativity and thoughts for posterity.

Digital and analogue devices can live together peaceably so long as digital supports analogue structures and not vice versa.

My friend and colleague, Steve Morton, Mr. Philofaxy himself, was tickled pink when I suggested we do a radio program about planners. He had been contemplating the idea for some time and suddenly had an active partner in crime. Our podcast, yes digital podcast, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Plannerverse, is recorded and produced entirely digitally and is themed around the subject of analogue paper planners!

I certainly am NOT advocating you bring in a slightly dampened clay tablet and a sharpened twig to take notes in a post-digital world. I LOVE digital devices. I use digital devices. I am writing this article on a rather swank piece of digital equipment. However, the sensory overwhelm of constantly being “on” and connected to everyone where everything is accessible and every moment is painstakingly real for me and apparently for around 15,000 of my closest colleagues within the paper planner community.

Ensuring a positive interaction with our devices, both analogue and digital, is variable experience. One thing is clear for me though, when I use digital devices to support my analogue lifestyle, I gain a greater satisfaction in my sensory experience of life. That is, when I take notes in my planner, write out my calendric appointments, create master tasks lists and go back to review my notes from the meeting last week, I gain a euphoric sense of control over what my brain is processing at any given moment. Our human bodies have both analogue and electrical experiences, particularly within the brain. And within the base  brain lives a set of cells called the Reticular Activating System, aka the RAS. This RAS is activated when we are busy doing dynamic interface things like reading the words out of a paper book, where physical pages are being turned by our own fingers and our thumbs go numb and cold pressing down the corners keeping the book open. Why is this important? Because the murder that happened a few pages back  in your current mystery is emblazoned in your brain as having happened on the bottom of page 49. You may not remember it was page 49 but you do remember the physical location of it “being a few pages back on the bottom righthand page.” How? How do you know it’s there? Because of your RAS. Let’s take a moment and thank your RAS right now. Thank you, RAS. The topographic map of information your brain is processing ONLY happens when you read off a paper book. This is why reading off an e-reader takes a bit of a learning curve and why you probably love your Kindle but just can’t put your finger on why it takes longer to read when you are reading off it. This is why we print out emails and the paperless office is anything but.

So what exactly is an analogue device? How do you distinguish it from a digital one? I have a very simple explanation: An analogue device is anything you can look at, touch, hold, experience without knowing what it is or does and still be able to figure out what it might be used for. For example, if you have never seen a shovel and someone hands you one, without any instructions or explanations, you could, kind of figure out what its purpose is. Whereas with a digital device, say a smartphone, if you had no clue what it was and it wasn’t turned on, you really couldn’t tell what it was designed to do. Furthermore, an analogue device rapidly displays how much information is in it, like a paper planner, for example. Looking at it sideways allows one to understand approximately how much information it contains, weighing it also gives an approximation. Whereas a computer does not reveal how much data is stored until various storage data are accessed. The computer, happily,  doesn’t get heavier the more data it stores.

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We are entering a new era of human interaction, outside the scope of virtual shenanigans and while digital innovation has profoundly impacted the quality of living, I can see the side effect of people going on holiday, only to post instant photos of relaxation which hasn’t happened yet because they are busy posting photos of it. Experiencing ambient environments, the ability to shut off and shut down, the desire for more sleep and better quality, and the persistent human experience of living as if tomorrow were promised are all excellent motivators for placing a little notebook next to your nightstand. Even if all it does is help you prop up your iPhone as the glow disturbs your RAS while you drift off to sleep.

Join me, all you geeks and nerds who were scoffed at and mocked for loving your stationery and dreaming about erasers which smelled of bubblegum. Come close, all you who wondered why you obsessively wrote things down despite the multiple apps you’ve purchased which all promised you a better to-do list than the one you downloaded just last week. Gather round, all ye who sniff leathers, snap rubber bands, understand the feeling of being home in a bookstore and want to create a lifestyle where you create the sense of peace, calm and order that can only come from using a planner to its fullest potential. Sit down in the comfy chairs, warm your feet by the fire and let us get busy curating the small portions of our lives, creating a first-class lifestyle that never needs to be stowed away on take off. Let us enjoy our own writing in planners that need not line-of-sight connectivity and never flounder at “one small bar” of wi-fi access. The revolution begins now.

Karine Tovmassian is a writer and speaks regularly about planners and creating a first-class lifestyle. She is also damn good person to have on your side. You can see her at the PlannerCon in San Francisco, California March 11-12 2017 and find her on Instagram @KarineTovmassian as well as plannerology.com. The Hitch Hiker’s To The Plannerverse podcast can be found at philofaxy.com and on iTunes Podcasts.

18 thoughts on “Rise of the Geeks

  • September 1, 2016 at 3:55 PM
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    I love this article! Also interesting information on the RAS. The nurse in me knew there had to be more science to back up my aversion to e-reading. I am a proud geek ready to join your revolution!

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    • September 1, 2016 at 4:32 PM
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      There is a lot of research coming in to justify keeping out bookstores open, Lora. I was horrified when I went back to my Alma Mater and found out the bookstore had gone the way of the dodo because everything is “available online.” Test scores, retention and application VASTLY differ from students who read in analogue form versus digital. Hang in there. We can stand in front, the two of us.

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  • September 1, 2016 at 4:17 PM
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    This Planner Geek (since before being a Planner Geek was cool) stands tall beside you, thrusting my over-stuffed and weathered personal Malden high in the air! (The Avengers theme song is playing in the background. Just wanted you to have the full effect.)

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  • September 1, 2016 at 4:19 PM
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    It will be interesting to see how the next generation of digital beings evolve. Will the RAS evolve into something that retains the digital info better… With time? Thank you for that informative and entertaining article I’m off to enjoy ‘Life – Don’t talk to me about Life!’ And your podcast. Look forward to your next article.

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  • September 1, 2016 at 5:31 PM
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    Carie,

    I had a one year promotion in my school last year to pilot the use of Microsoft OneNote. Part of the role meant attending school management team meetings weekly. I took my planner every week…and it was often commented upon that it was ironic how I was promoting the use of digital and using paper. Hand in hand, lads and lassies…hand in hand!

    By the end of the year there was definite planner envy!

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  • September 1, 2016 at 5:58 PM
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    I guess I jumped from the title, right into the article without noticing that you, Karine, was the author. The light bulb didn’t come on until you mentioned Steve. I have been listening to the podcast all along and was thrilled to have this opportunity to read something you have written. Within a few sentences at the beginning of the article (before I knew it was you), I thought, ‘Wow. That’s some quality writing!’ I am so happy you’ve chosen to support Carie in this first issue of her magazine. Thank you for an engaging article.

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  • September 1, 2016 at 9:26 PM
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    Great article! I am a Proud Planner Geek since 2000 and my husband before that.

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  • September 1, 2016 at 10:12 PM
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    So so so well written!!!!! What a wonderful read. Well done!!!!! A true joy to read.

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  • September 2, 2016 at 12:02 PM
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    Thanks for writing this Karine,
    I especially liked the last paragraph, it made me smile.
    I am a computing teacher who doesn’t let her Hobonichi Cousin leave her sight at any point in the day. The number of systems I can implement in there to manage my teaching is amazing. I couldn’t manage my job nearly so well if I had to rely on digital notes for everything, the computing skills I am teaching are complemented perfectly by a paper system.
    I love listening to ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Plannerverse’, in fact, I had better head there now to see if there are any episodes I have missed.

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  • September 2, 2016 at 5:01 PM
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    Love this! I am proud to be one of those planner geeks. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I find I am much more organized and can accomplish more when I use a paper planner.

    Great job.

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  • September 2, 2016 at 7:05 PM
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    I’m not sure which part I LOVED more… “where physical pages are being turned by our own fingers” Oh yes, how I love my books/papers or “Sit down in the comfy chairs, warm your feet by the fire and let us get busy curating the small portions of our lives, creating a first-class lifestyle that never needs to be stowed away on take off. ” I never thought about it like this before… so brilliant! Both fantastic lines of geekiness… I can’t wait to meet you at #PlannerCon2017.

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  • September 3, 2016 at 8:06 AM
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    This planner geek loved your article!!! All my thoughts beautifully put on paper in one place….by YOU….I’ve loved listening to your podcasts also.
    Thank you for your article, your inspiration and your being part of this fabulous
    community. I look forward to more of your work

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  • September 3, 2016 at 4:59 PM
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    I am a lifelong planner geek. To hold a new pen or planner makes me ridiculously happy. If at all possible I will attend the convention.

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  • September 4, 2016 at 2:44 PM
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    I have been a planner geek since circa 1995, so I lived through the whole “don’t use paper, use technology” phase of planning, taking notes, etc. It never worked for me; I remained true to my geeky self and stuck with paper planners. Sure, I love technology, but people focus too much on having the latest gadget instead of doing what works for them. As you implied, I feel like I’m the only one paying attention in a meeting because I’m writing notes in long-hand rather than looking at a tech gadget. I’m a college English professor and have to constantly tell my students to put their phones away and stop reading them during lectures. It’s infuriating when they are all staring down at their crotches, texting away, or looking at Facebook- thinking all the while I don’t notice. Great article!!

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  • September 13, 2016 at 4:07 AM
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    I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I am quite sure I’ll learn many new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!|

    Reply
  • September 18, 2016 at 6:05 AM
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    I absolutely loved this piece. As a recent returnee to the world of the Filofax I am experiencing again all the joy I felt when my sister gave me my first one for my birthday in 1989. Whilst researching which model would be best for me I had the idea of watching unboxing and review videos on YouTube and discovered a whole other universe of planning that I had no idea existed and I doubt very much existed in any substantial form in 1989. I’m not digital averse at all having inherted a love of gadgets from both my Grandads and I love my Kindle, but nothing beats a real book just as my Filofax is something I can love and spend time with unlike my online calendar.

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  • September 27, 2016 at 5:18 AM
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    What a brilliant article! I’ve been loving your podcasts and even read this article with your voice in my head haha!
    It’s been so refreshing, diving into the analog planning world this year. I know where everything is in my planner and I don’t have to worry about a backup or update wiping all my data.
    I look forward to reading more of your articles and listening to more of your podcasts.

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  • October 28, 2016 at 5:00 PM
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    Excellent article. So often we are marketed devices which are to be the end all be all of organization. Like all technology based administrative adjuncts they more often than not fall short of expectations. Paper based planning has soul – it is something you can feel that you have created yourself whereas the digital equivalent is merely a tool that in certain circumstances can certainly be a boon to productivity at the expense of the personal creativity that rests in every person. Yes I admit it I am a kindle reader as the instant gratification aspect coupled with spatial issues make it a win – win. Even this being the case it could never replace the bookstore and the joy of exploring racks of printed text.

    Reply

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