I can’t tell you why

Posted on Friday, December 14, 2018

Confession: I still receive The Economist in print format. I can’t tell you why. But every time I try to walk away, something makes me change my mind and stay. However, that means they build up on my desk until I go through them, tearing out articles I want to read and stuffing them into a file folder for later. Often much later.

I do read articles on my laptop but only because The Economist pushes a daily email and a weekly one summarizing the print magazine. I have the magazine on my iPad but I cannot teach myself to use it consistently. It is convenient when using the elliptical trainer in the back bedroom but since I cannot teach myself to use that consistently…

I can’t tell you why.

Last week, I finally attacked yet another pile of recent magazines reducing them to a smaller, but still considerable stack of articles to be read. These were jammed into the file folder and it became painfully obvious that it was time to do something to reduce if not eliminate the backlog. A business trip to Mexico City and knowing I was going to finish the book I was reading early on the outbound leg meant I had no excuse.

Now, the folder is thinner but not yet empty. Hopefully on vacation. But by the time I get back there will be the Christmas double issue and at least one from December and one from January pending. The cycle starts again.

For years, Colombia’s weekly news magazine, Revista Semana, was free on the Internet, but I never read it just to ‘see what was going on’. I went there only if somebody told me there was something that I should look at. For my energy newsletters, I have people looking for articles and sometimes Revista Semana has something we need to include. Also for the book I wrote this year, the Revista Semana website was indispensable. But open it on spec and browse? Never.

Earlier this year, the online magazine went ‘behind the paywall’ and I had to subscribe to read the articles I absolutely needed. A print copy came along for free.

Sure enough, I am flipping through the magazine on Sunday afternoons, reading columnists and several non-work-related articles every week. I can’t tell you why.

I have subscribed to Colombia’s business magazine (Dinero) for over a decade. Again, I read the physical version but only look online when I need something for the newsletters. I haven’t been able to get the app to work properly on my iPad. The problem is not the app; it is the sign-in credentials and it is more that I can’t be bothered to do it properly because I know I’m not going to use the app that much.

I can’t tell you why.

The only magazine I read consistently on my iPad is for my nothing-to-do-with-work hobby (model railroading) and that is only because the company that publishes it does not have an international subscription option. If it did, I would be waiting for the paper edition.

As I write, close at hand is a paper notebook in which I write copious notes from meetings and webinars using the cheap pens I pick up from conferences. (I have a bad habit of leaving pens on airplanes and in hotel rooms so my wife has forbidden me to buy any, at any price range.)

When I finish a notebook, I number it (e.g. 2018 Vol 5), put the date on the outside cover and store it in a cabinet beside my desk. While I have learned to keep the previous notebook close at hand for a month in case I need to check something, I rarely open the cabinet except to file the now-no-longer-relevant volume. There are notebooks going back 20 years but all they do is take up space. Why do I keep them? I can’t tell you why.

I first tried to switch to electronic notes in the early 1990s on my heavy and slow, low-res Mac PowerBook. I was not successful, but I blamed that on the cumbersome nature of the software I was using at the time which basically needed everything to look like a 4-by-8-inch index card and could only search using preassigned keywords.

I know I should take notes in my laptop or on my iPad. I marvel at colleagues who can do that.

They can find stuff afterward either because they are using some sophisticated research tool like Scrivener or something simpler like Evernote or even something even easier like just typing notes in Word and letting Windows find the references for keywords.

Instead, I have to rely on my rapidly deteriorating memory to remember what meeting I heard something in, look up in my calendar when it took place and then find the notes in my notebook. I don’t even have good handwriting and sometimes I can’t read what I wrote.

Not only does there have to be a better way, there is, and I even know what it might be. I just do not use it.

I can’t tell you why.

I tried lots of digital watches during the 1980’s, the last time they were popular. I use an analogue-faced Timex today. My millennial nieces and nephews do not own watches. They use their (ubiquitously at hand) phones to tell time. (Although some have bought Apple watches or Fitbits.)

But I still check the small hands on my analogue wristwatch instead of the large print on my phone to see what time it is.

I am hardly a Luddite. I write about technology for Pete’s sake. I encourage other people to use it. Do as I say, not as I do apparently.

Despite my foolishness are lots of things I do digitally.

I am a Spotify subscriber and I only buy CDs for my mother (whose near blindness has cut her off from her computer) and my wife (who is fairly ‘digital’ except she likes to physically put CDs in a player and read the cases, she can’t tell you why). I gave up on paper agendas a long time ago. I rarely use our home printer and then only when some bureaucratic organization (like some airlines) make me present a physical copy. I absolutely avoid collecting paper at conferences and I am slowly (painfully) giving up on paper ToDo lists (but I am not that successful yet). I have not received a physical bank statement for a decade.

I read more physical books than eBooks but there are some that I read in iPad Kindle because it is the only way to get them. But I can’t tell you why I do not read all books on my iPad (apart from Colombian books in Spanish which usually take a very long time to appear in e-format – and most of my personal reading these days is Colombian books in Spanish).

I have used train modelling simulators and they are very good. I have no doubt that I will reach a stage where they will be my contact with my hobby. But for now, doing something more with my hands (other than typing) and less with my brain is the reason I enjoy model trains so much. The physical contact with the materials is why I do it, so I won’t go digital for a while.

There are some things for which my digital conversion will take a very long time and some for which it may never come. There are others where I think (Hope? Not hope?) it will come sooner, perhaps from necessity – like books in English, my model train magazine or, to some extent, Spotify – perhaps from choice – like telling time, reading The Economist or using a train simulator. Then there are things that I doubt I will ever abandon my analogue habits, like note taking.

Over twenty-years ago, Nicholas Negroponte wrote the book Being Digital. At that time, and by his criteria, I thought I was. But now I realize that I am at best half-way, more digital than some of my contemporaries but less than my nieces and nephews. And, it seems, my ‘being digital’ will not significantly advance in the coming years.

I can’t tell you why.

Title Reference: The Eagles’ last top ten hit was I Can’t Tell You Why from the 1979 album The Long Run. It would be their last studio album for nearly 30 years, so it was, in some sense, the ‘last’ Eagles album. The line is perfect for this article but the song itself is better suited for someone in a relationship that is going nowhere, to neither party’s benefit, which does not really apply to my ‘being digital’. While this song has a great guitar solo and is one that can get stuck playing in my head for days or weeks at a time, the B-side was the utterly forgettable The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks. Maybe the reason why the band broke up. I can’t tell you why.

NOTE: I will be on what I call vacation (others might not) from today until January 7th. Blogs may or may not appear during this period. If the muse visits, I will write. If she also takes vacation, I will not. The Twitter stream is another channel I will use if needed. I hope you and your family have a safe and happy holiday period. Enjoy. See you in the new year.

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