Just over a year ago, I published a piece titled "Strategic Paper Replacement," in which I talked about using the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil as a way to remove "junk paper" from my life. Curiously, this remains one of the most popular posts on the blog, and one that receives a lot of comments and e-mail. More than one person has reached out to me recently to ask how things are going with "the big iPad," so I thought I'd post an update. In short, the iPad Pro has become a tool that I use situationally, for very specific things. Most of my day-to-day computer work continues to be done on a laptop or a desktop, and for most of my notetaking I've continued to revert to pen (or pencil) and paper. While the iPad Pro something that I'm glad I have, it's probably NOT a piece of technology that I'll update on a regular basis.
Originally, the purpose behind this purchase was to get a device that I could use to help me digitize notes and easily organize and circulate annotated documents to other members of my team, which makes up a huge part of my day job. To a certain extent, it's worked as expected. I use the iPad Pro a fair bit to do quick mark-ups of short letters, forms, and other things that don't require a lot of deep thought or analysis. The Apple Pencil writes small and legibly enough so that others can read my handwriting. In an industry (law) that often still requires a physical signature, it's also incredibly convenient to be able to sign documents directly on the iPad when I'm on the road and instantly attach them to an e-mail, rather than have to find some place to print, sign, and scan. The iPad Pro also keeps me from having to carry a separate briefcase (or suitcase) to lug around multiple three-inch binders of documents when I'm headed to an out of town hearing or deposition.
But as an overall organizational or serious productivity tool, the Pro is a fail. Some of this is due to the nature of my job - I work with a lot of sensitive data and protected information, so security is an issue and we can't rely on commercial cloud storage providers (i.e., iCloud or Dropbox). In light of these restrictions, I can't simply take all of my notes in Goodnotes (current favorite) or the native Apple Notes app and sync them across all of my devices. I'm always going to have a large volume of material that either needs to be stored in my company's proprietary file system (which operates only on an older version of Windows and is about as Apple-incompatible as you can get) or in hard copy, if I want to store it at all. For this type of stuff, I almost always take hand-written notes and then either destroy them, lock them up in a file room, or scan them to secure electronic storage.
But there's also a larger issue at play here. As I touched on in my earlier post:
I thought this might change with the iPad Pro, given the more tactile nature of writing with the Apple Pencil. It hasn't. Writing with a stylus on screen simply doesn't engage my brain in the same way as writing on paper, and an iPad (or any phone or tablet) is an endless invitation to distraction. The New York Times recently published an Op-ed titled, "You're Too Busy, You Need a Shultz Hour", which talked about former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz's practice of carving out an hour each week to sit alone in his office with a pad of paper and a pen and seal himself off from any distraction - which, in his day, fortunately involved only avoiding phone calls and "pop-ins" from office visitors, not e-mail/IMs/Slack/Twitter/Facebook, etc. This "hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions.... And the only way to do great work, in any field, is to find time to consider the larger questions."
I enjoyed the article, and it goes to the heart of why I will never (voluntarily) give up pen and paper. It's too central to my workflow and the analytical process that allows me to do my job well. If that means I have to sacrifice having the perfect organizational system for my notes and handwritten brainstorming sessions, or that I occasionally accumulate an unruly pile of paper, so be it. I'd much rather focus on the end result than the process.
What's Up With Digital Divide?
If you subscribe to my mailing list, you may have wondered what happened to the monthly "Digital Divide" e-mail newsletter, in which I discuss topics of interest to those of us deeply invested in the analog world. Well, after a lot of consideration, I decided to kill the newsletter because publishing in two different formats was causing me a lot of unnecessary stress. Digital Divide will continue, but as a series of posts on The Gentleman Stationer, ideally on a monthly basis but I'm not going to force it if I don't have anything interesting to write about. Also, as of now all previous editions of Digital Divide are now archived on the site. Some of them don't look as pretty as they did in newsletter format, but hey, it's about the content, right?
I also have a couple guest posts that people have submitted that will eventually work their way into Digital Divide. If you have an idea, or if you'd like to submit something for publication, just drop me an e-mail to joe (at) gentlemanstationer.com.
Thanks for your patience as I worked through the future of Digital Divide. I enjoyed writing the newsletter and believe this will give me a way to keep it alive without losing my sanity.