I’m a paper pile person, and although I have an abiding obsession with time management systems, I always felt inspired to let the paper dragon frolic. Now I’m drowning in data and trapped in its undertow. As people around me sign up for various cults of productivity apps, I find myself overwhelmed by choosing which cult to join. The whole thing makes me throw my hands up in the air, which defeats the purpose of organization systems in the first place.

After letting the elephant of Evernote, the blue box of Dropbox, and every other eye-candy logo capture my attention, I’ve opted for the simplest system, and I’m slowly shifting papers to pixels on Google. I selected Google because I gave up a desktop email program for Gmail a few years ago, with some trepidation, and found it to be less disconcerting than I anticipated. I’m getting old (I’m 50!) and less comfortable in digital outposts. I’m happy to be an old fart.

My grandfather grew up during the depression and provides an apt analogy for how cohort experiences change with generations. His parsimonious behaviors make sense when put in historical context. He cut mold off of cheese or bread and swore it was still good. He saved used ziplock bags until the cupboards swelled with them.  He drank milk until it was “blinky.” (Note: Blinky is a southern expression from my dad’s Texan-side of the family; my grandfather – on my mom’s side, from Chelsea, Jewish – would never say such a thing.) Grandparents of today are stereotypically generous, whereas old people of my day were notoriously tight-fisted. Those stereotypes are cohort experiences based on historical context.

I’m now eligible to join the AAUP

Apply this idea of cohort experience to how my use of new technology is now ossifying.  File formats come and go. Remember Fortran? What’s Fortran, you say? My point, exactly. Remember Y2K, the “virus” that was actually a code loophole that caused the world’s computer systems to fail? The failure happened because no one accounted for the numeric change of 1999 to 2000 when writing computer programs. True, it didn’t really happen, but it could have. Unfortunately, what does indeed happen is the Betamaxing of every nifty program, app, and feature that I come to rely on until it disappears like that long-dead video format.

What if I lose my data in the constant shuffle? It’s happened before. Paper has a much better shelf life. Witness the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives (1776), or the Magna Carta in the British Museum and the Salisbury Cathedral (1215, both of which I’ve seen), not to mention stone, like the Rosetta Stone (196 BC, also in the British Museum, which I’ve also seen).

Harry Potter looked kind of cute writing with a quill. My grandfather’s ethic of reusing things wasn’t that off base. In 56 days I am eligible for AARP membership.

July 3 edit: I am still sitting in piles of paper with no digital system to speak of. There is no substantive difference between any of these systems. As with all time management, task management, and file organization systems, the main flaw is simply the person running the system, which is me.  Guilty as charged.

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