18 Feb 07

I like to keep my lists and reminders in a little pack of index cards in one pocket. Every time I whip out my cards, I get a smirk from someone watching. Frequently, someone pulls out a PDA or celphone and shows me how they can keep their to-dos on it.

I usually just shrug, since I don’t want to start an argument. But now, here are my reasons for using index cards:

  • Paper has extremely high resolution: about six hundred dots per inch, compared to about one hundred for a “high-res” monitor. It supports text and graphics, and direct input. It’s also full-color. Input devices are ubiquitous, standardized, and cheap.
  • My data is stored in a universal format that will still be recognized fifty years from now (compared to, say, a Microsoft Word 97 file).
  • It never crashes. The data is rarely corrupted (smudged), and even then has always been limited to a few words and been recoverable by context.
  • It never has to be reset. It doesn’t have to boot; it’s always immediately on.
  • It uses zero power. Its batteries never die. It never has to be recharged.
  • It’s almost perfectly secure. While it’s in my pocket, nobody else in the world can possibly access it. If I want to securely delete the data, I burn a card and the data can’t possibly be recovered by a third party.
  • It can be easily backed up (using a photocopier). It can be easily archived (drop it in a file folder). It fits a wide variety of standard media.
  • The display can be expanded to huge size by spreading out cards on any surface. Cards can be posted publicly on almost any surface, anywhere in the world.
  • I can buy massively more storage (five hundred cards) for about three dollars.
  • If I want digital storage, the data can be scanned into a computer in about ten seconds using a $70 off-the-shelf scanner.

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