From time to time, readers chide me for using a picture in this column of me with a pen and paper in hand. These readers claim that because pen and paper represent old technology, they must be passé. I take exception to that notion. Although I employ computers quite extensively, I still find the use of pen and paper both reassuring and convenient. I never have to reboot, I have a great optical recognition system, and my notes are randomly accessible or sequentially ordered with simplicity and ease.
When I travel, I take my laptop, and a visit to my office would reveal a pretty inclusive mix of computer hardware and personal electronic products. Unquestionably, I'm a strong computer advocate. In fact, my laptop and I are practically joined at the hip.
Today we're exposed to a diverse array of technology choices, and we make many decisions based on personal preference, rather than on technology. For example, even though we can scan through an almost unlimited array of Web information, many of us still like the convenience of reading printed material.
Being glued to a CRT or LCD screen isn't the most comfortable situation when trying to relax or absorb large amounts of technical information. Additionally, pages on a computer display screen aren't as flexible as printed material. It's very difficult to flip rapidly through a large number of on-screen pages because most 17-in. or smaller monitors can't display full-size readable pages. Plus, many of us habitually print out a good deal of the Web material we work with for further review later on, permanent filing, or to serve as a reminder.
So, the older technology of paper still offers multiple advantages. It will continue to do so until the advent of some "electronic paper" in the form of a low-cost handheld tablet. Such a tablet must offer the same portability as a book, while providing many computer-driven features such as text search, bookmarks, attachable notes, and wireless downloads.
Leveraging a new technology doesn't always mean eliminating the technology that it supercedes. Let's make sure that the new technology really brings some advantages with it. Without obvious advantages, convincing users to invest in the new technology could be fatal to its introduction. The false starts experienced several years ago by early generations of PDAs and other pen-based systems proves that consumers aren't willing to sacrifice familiarity for inconvenience, even if the devices can do more.
Paper isn't the only older technology to provide superior capabilities over the latest electronic solution. But this doesn't mean that we should be against adopting new technology. Rather, when we embrace a new technology, it must offer at least one significant advantage beyond the fact that it's new. So, when will we give up paper? Maybe never.