My Migration from Paper


Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I’m a creature of tablets — old-fashioned, narrow-ruled, white paper tablets. I write out notes, sketches, lists. Like many of us, I think by writing things out. And unlike some people I keep the tablets. One part lapsed historian, one part pack-rat, I don’t like losing my record of the ideas and thoughts I put on paper.But since I’m also a computer and gadget person, I’ve always fantasized about finding some way to do this digitally, to think-write in a storable and accessible computerized way. Way back when — say, 2003 — I bought one of Microsoft’s early and failed attempts at creating a tablet. Didn’t work. For me or for them.

I never had this desire to stop reading physical books. I was always into the physicality of books. This I just stumbled into. When I first got an iPhone I tried out the Kindle app for iPhone and discovered that even on that tiny non-ideal screen, it worked for me. Then I bought an actual Kindle, which pretty much worked. And then when the iPad came out, I downloaded that Kindle app and I was done with physical books. I haven’t bought one in at least a couple years now and I’m not sure I ever will again unless I find something I really, really need to read that isn’t out in a digital edition (and yes, it does constrict the numbers of books I can read.) I think I gave in and bought the out of print memoir of Menachem Begin about a year ago. That was my only backslide as far as I can remember.

But back to the topic at hand — note taking. I’d tried a bunch of note-taking apps on the iPad, each with different angles on approximating the experience of writing by hand. Each was ingenious but I know whether they succeed for me by inference from my own actions. I never used them. So they didn’t work.

Until I noticed a staffer at TPM using Paper — a note-taking/drawing app for the iPad. Like all great user experiences, its secret is in limiting and thus simplifying options.

I downloaded it that afternoon, bought a new stylus. And I was done … done with taking notes on physical paper. I didn’t even think I’d be using it for notes at first. I thought I’d use it to try wireframe images for our web design work at TPM. It’s probably still a little too early for me to say this is a committed relationship and not just intense infatuation. It’s only been a few weeks. But I haven’t picked up any paper tablets. And whatever part of my brain requires me to write letters and words and scribbles on a white sheet of paper seems entirely satisfied with new approach.

(In case you’re wondering, no, this is not some big discovery of mine. Apple just named Paper one of its Apps of the Year. So if anything I’m behind not ahead of the curve.)

My only complaint or concern is that there’s no good way to get these notes or drawings out of this app or device, as far as I can see. You can export a single page as a picture. But there’s no way for me to take charge of these records of my thinking and planning en masse. And that bothers me, worries me. If you folks at FiftyThree read this: Any plan to deal with this? How can I save my stuff outside your awesome app?

Are you still writing longhand and on paper? Are you still reading paper books or are you all e-reader now? I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve closed the book on the paper book. But the truth is I have. I still have the same rich feeling when I pick up a paper edition of … say, The New York Times (pretty rare). But I also had an epiphany a few years ago when it occurred to me: how many trees get chopped down to print a single edition of the Times? A Sunday Times? It’s shocking when you think about it.

So tell me, where are you in your migration from paper?


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of