by Karine Tovmassian
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.
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.”
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.
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.