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Simpler Life - In Praise of Paper-based PDAs

In Praise of Paper-based PDAs

Even in today's digital world paper still has its place, more maybe even than before, and I am referring here to such things as Filofax agendas and the like, and even such as being compiled by the users themselves rather than by purchasing such an agenda binder as a Filofax itself and/or the inserts for such binders.

The person who invented the POCKET Mod “Paper PDA” has had an absolutely brilliant idea, in my view, especially as one can use paper that is basically waste, printed on one side already and unloved and unwanted, often because it is spam post, to turn into a small notebook of eight small pages.

Personally I have designed my own POCKET Mod online with the tool provided on the website, then printed one, scanned it into the PC, made it into a word processor document and then turned it into a PDF file. When I need some need little notebooks – I use those especially for projects and articles – I print them out from the PDF, make them up and then carry a small number of them with me.

I tend to use those small notebooks for special projects and article drafts even though I also use a Filofax, though this cannot be carried all the time for its size. I use a POCKET Mod almost daily, I must say.

Why do I advocate low-tech solutions here many will wonder seeing that, obviously, I do use a PC, and I must admit more than one even, ect.? Why indeed?

For more than a year I used to carry and use a Palm Pilot PDA but I have had nothing but problems with hand-held devices and after the umpteenth time and also wiped its backup on the PC and Palm's customer service was simply non-existent, as many people said on the Internet forums about that company (BTW, that is OLD Palm and not the company that uses the name now) I decided to revert back to the use of pen and paper, in the form, initially, of the Filofax binder.

The great advantages of pen and paper, and paper-based notes, is (1) the fact that no batteries and no operating system or other software can fail and (2) that is it not a sensitive unit that might get damaged or broken if dropped or if water gets spilled upon it, and I have to say that, as I get my pens free from Trade Shows and other exhibitions, it to me is the most effective system.

Paper-based systems still valid in the twenty-first century.

Also, I have to add, that the pages for the Filofax paper PDA that I carry are made at home by using an old Lotus Organizer program on Windows XP – the program does work on XP as well despite of its age (the age of the original program, not that of XP) which prints pages in Filofax size. I then cut the pages to the right size, more or less by eye judgement after lots of experience, making some blank (at least one side of it) pages at the same time, and then punch the holes. For this I did invest in a Filofax-specific hole punch – and they do not come cheap but then neither do the store-bought inserts. In fact I am sure that the hole punch has by now definitely paid for itself.

Pen and paper based notes, to me at least, work much better than do PDAs of whichever operating system, but then that is my personal view.

Yes, I admit, I do have to type my notes up on the PC afterwards and to a degree people may think this to be rather time consuming and a waste but considering the time it takes to input text and data onto a PDA by means of a stylus and the touch screen I do not think that it takes me more time altogether with typing up my notes.
It also give me the time, while typing them up, to already edit and make additions, etc. to my draft that I have written in pen on paper in longhand.

Using POCKET Mob notebooklets and the Scrybe online organizer (, with its off-line facility, where pages can be printed out similar to the POCKET Mod, and definitely the same pocket size, one does not even have to lug around a Filofax, though the latter does come in rather handy for contact details and other such things, so, therefore, a lot of times I still have the Filofax binder in my briefcase nevertheless. When I go somewhere without the briefcase, however, then the other two little systems suffice and fit into the shirt pocket or hip pocket of jeans or other pants.

I am not saying that we should abandon modern technology and the PC and even pocket PCs and other electronic PDAs; I am no Luddite, but what I am saying is “ask yourself whether you actually NEED one.
While I am quite the gadget man and have several – five indeed – PCs I cannot see, as yet at least, really a need for having a (new) electronic PDA and definitely no benefit and justification.
When I bought my so far first and only electronic PDA, the Palm Pilot, it was the lure of the gadget, a new toy, so to speak, but I have learned the hard way.
For the time being at least, I personally, shall stick with a paper and pen based system for on the move and I will type up my notes and article- and report drafts into the computer when back at base.

Will the hand-held PC displace paper-based systems? I do not think so. In the same way as e-books will not, I think, displace or replace proper paper books.

I have to say that with me the hand-held will not replace paper-based systems. I took a PDA a couple of years back now but with the problems I experienced with it, and the great – NOT – customer service from the company, I would not go back to one, that is for sure. It would also take a lot to persuade me to take up – unless someone, like a company, would give it to me for free (for review – wink, wink, nudge, nudge) – to go back to using a handheld computer of any kind.

Having used a Palm Pilot PDA for fourteen month, when it gave up its ghost finally, after six months of problem prior to it giving up, and, as said, a non-existent customer support from the makers, I went back to using a Filofax binder and the other paper-based systems for note taking and for contact details and I have not regretted this move one bit.
While I cannot transfer, that is true, my stuff electronically from my paper-based systems to a PC – for obvious reasons – which is obviously something that the electronic gadgets are capable of doing – the reliability and the robustness of the paper-based systems of the electronic PDAs and Pocket PCs outweigh those factors.
I just type my data and notes into the PC and often this gives me a change to make amendments right away or, as in the case of articles and such, to work on the piece by expanding the notes into a proper essay right away proper or at least into the beginning of one.

The greatest advantages of the ordinary and not so ordinary paper based PDA systems is the fact that, as said already, as aside from the pen running out of ink – that's why I always carry at least one backup pen – and fire, the notes are safe.

From an environmental aspect and that of sustainability any paper-based system, especially as I described them here as used by me, has a much smaller impact as paper is recyclable – and I am doing this already by reusing previously printed material – and also shredded can be put into the domestic composters where it will break down easily (though coated papers may not work too well or not at all). Electronic PDAs on the other hand require specialist waste facilities and treatment as neither the basic units nor their batteries can be put into landfill sites, which any way are running out at an alarming rate, due to the fact they contain toxic substances which could contaminate groundwater and soil.

I do know that some of the environmental movement might disagree with me in some respect as to advocating a paper-based system over a paper-less one, e.g. electronic devices, that is to say PDAs and Pocket PCs, but so be it. I believe that it is far more environmentally responsible to use paper, sourced, obviously, from sustainable forests and to, especially, us the backs of old printed emails, letters, etc.

© M V Smith, 2007

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