In the past, and now as well, one of the things that people used to collect their writing was notebooks. I have used them and still do. Notebooks are awesome and amazing. They are dense, offer the option to draw easily and write easily on the same page and in the same place, and they are tactile and are physically connected to the physical process of writing in a way we can understand and see. We literally could simply burn a match and write a word if we needed to, or find some kind of berry off a tree and squeeze its juices into a sponge and write with it. Pens and pencils themselves are very much technological achievements as is paper, but it’s a tried and true technology whose failure points we are familiar with. Paper hates fire, dust, water and age. Even tearing paper, it can be repaired or simply restructured to find the original content. Of course, something is lost, but the overall content of the words on paper can be recovered if paper is torn apart. That ability itself is so important that an entire industry evolved and still revolves around making sure you can’t do that. Notebooks also have the most interesting feature of being linear.
Linearity in a notebook is, of course, a product of either its manufacture or its owner’s desire to make it so. A manufactured notebook in which the pages are fixed in place can easily have the page cut out and the linearity be destroyed. Even as you write in it, you can choose to do this. Of course, you can simply own a notebook that paper can be placed into over binder rings, giving you the easy option of removal through removing it by opening the binder rings or tearing it out. I have and continue to often use these forms of notebooks. They are great for brainstorming because you can easily then take the pages and connect them in a non-linear way. You can transfer them to a different medium. You can use technological solutions to copy them or scan them into a computer. Non-linearity is a sort of blessing with writing.
Yet, linearity heartily survives. Moleskine has made a multi-million dollar business of linearity. Of course, you can buy any number of notebooks to write in that have perforated pages for easy removal, but the fixed page notebook thrives. There’s something about the fixed pages that draws a certain type of person into using it. And I am not here to even pretend to know why that’s the case. The only reason I started to write about to begin with was thinking about writing something else entirely and finding myself a bit chagrined that everything I wrote about it previously is now scattered across the digiverse. On Facebook in notes and in replies. In email. Maybe even in segments of Tweets. It is all collected in different, difficult to search places that I haven’t noted. And now I am left to search for it in order to recover those ideas. If it were in notebooks it would be difficult as well, but the difficulty would be an evening of me standing up and pulling notebooks off the shelf and going through them. And the difficulty of getting lost in other things I have written (an equally risky proposition searching through the sites as well, though) and getting more ideas and losing focus. But I think I would be able to find the things I had written without going on a scavenger hunt through my online digital life.
A place to write. That’s the title. And I have lost a place to write. I still write in notebooks, but not long thoughts or ideas like I am writing here. But I have not had a focused digital place to write for a while, and that has led to not knowing where good ideas have gotten off to in the social networks. And even the places I know I left good ideas are going to be investments in time and effort to search for them. Good ideas about what was happening in Prometheus that I now want to write about. Good ideas about Scott Pilgrim vs the World that I now want to write about. The cloud and the non-linearity of it all has me wondering how to search for these things and questioning where I put my ideas and thoughts. I love handwriting, but I love typing with a keyboard as well. Typing is a skill I have that I enjoy and loathe to abandon, which is why voice recognition has never held much sway for me (except for the ability to use it as seen in Star Trek to get where I live to do things for me). I can’t see abandoning one form over the other. But the linearity of the notebook forces a type of structure to even the most mundane of note taking. It slows the pace of data input as well, which is both a blessing and a curse. When ideas come fast, you want to capture them quickly, and that is why the computer and typing into them can be such a joy (especially for introverts that don’t feel comfortable putting their ideas into speech through recordings or even through transcription). The downside of the computer for capturing ideas is the ever changing nature of where you actually KEEP those ideas.
There’s something amazingly conversational about places like Facebook and Twitter, and this conversational style is inherited from the old days of computer bulletin boards. I wonder exactly how many hours myself and others poured into our well thought out and well honed responses, typed in as well as our typing and grammatical skills allowed, to what basically amounted to nothing more than a coffee shop conversation or a bar argument. While the wild west feeling of the BBS has been removed from Facebook and Twitter through design elements, accessibility to family and friends you wouldn’t show that side of yourself to, and with Facebook, let’s face it, censorship. The wild west side of the web still exists in the form of feedback, the worst of which is exacerbated by the concept of anonymity, but Facebook and Twitter offer up something slightly more intimate in their own ways (with each being completely different). The conversational style is great, as it frees up the idea that you are facing a blank page to write on. Feedback is immediate. Notifications are immediate when there is feedback. It reminds me of something I wrote down in 2007 in a Tiddlywiki (which I still have and will copy from to quote the written item): “Timeshifting is the new black.”
Timeshifting conversations is really what Facebook and Twitter are doing for us. It’s exactly what all electronic communities have been doing for years. Facebook and Twitter both have polished this timeshifted conversation to a point where it is sleek and accessible to a wider number of people and age groups than ever before. The threshold for entry is so incredibly low that what was the domain of the computer geek in the 80s, for the computer savvy in the 90s, for nearly every person with someone to help them with their computer in the 00s, is now the domain of every person’s grandparents and beyond. The threshold is either so low or so invisible as to not even exists. Every person now has an almost flawless system of electronically timeshifting their conversations, even beyond email. Not only their conversations, but essentially their entire lives. Locations? You can check in. Visual record? You can post photos to any of these services, and videos as well. Audio record? You can take a moment to connect SoundCloud to both of these things. Basically, all of your activity is recorded now (if you want that) and response to it is recorded and timeshifted to you responding to it at your convenience.
Yet for writing itself, this activity I am involved in right now, well, you still need “a place” to do it. You need a blog, or a notebook, or a word processor. All of these exists. The place to do it becomes a choice of places. The real choice becomes which one to use and, more importantly, where to keep what you write. A place to keep it has become as important as the place to do the action itself. Because it’s about being able to find it and to find your old good ideas that is the most important aspect of writing. For myself, this is where Facebook and Twitter fail, although Twitter has actually addressed this by now letting you download all your tweets, which you can then proceed to have your computer index for search (I haven’t done this, but I am guessing it doesn’t catalog and keep the conversational nature of reply chains). Facebook has attempted to do something similar by providing you with Timelines and the ability to catalog events chronologically, but even this still will not let you catalog and index locally. You are left to remember and dig around for anything great you may have written in a reply or a group.
So it comes down to really what started all of this: I wanted to find some fun things I wrote in Facebook and Twitter. Some in notes, so easy to find, others in posts, not as easy but still you can load your posts up and search, and then… some in replies and groups. For these, you are left to your own devices to find someway to remember the when and where. Facebook replies feel like old school BBS replies of days gone by: important to you at the time, but lost to the vapor. Of course, there ARE some good ideas you threw out, and losing the specifics is the frustrating part of the whole situation. If you could just capture those one of two highlights of ideas you would be happy! But it’s a dying Roy Batty situation where they are all lost like tears in the rain.
This is why it’s important to have a place to write. A single spot to capture your ideas. Of course, the responsibility is human. It rest on you to capture any good idea you have put down in words. You are the responsible party for making choices, be they digital or analog (and as a support technician for the last 13.5 years, I can tell you straight away that there are more than a few people that print EVERYTHING they write and file it away), to store your ideas. If they are replies to Tweets and Facebook status updates or groups, you are still responsible for remembering to copy and past it somewhere. Or to email it to yourself. In the long run, for now, recovery of good ideas is as fleeting as it has ever been despite all the tools to record them and find them again.