Paper: The Unavoidable Interface

I was wrong. We all were wrong.

Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

The dream that never was

The dream born with the rise of the personal computer. In the nineteen seventies with the appearance of computer screens and digitalization, the idea of a paperless office began to form in some companies and businesses.

The unavoidable advantages

Paper notebooks, notepads, legal or yellow pads, journals, sketchbooks… have technological advantages that iPads, tablets, iPhones, smartphones, or smartwatches, don’t have.

  • Simple: you can use notepads as examples of simplicity.
  • High resolution at a low cost: have you seen the beauty of a 0.15 mm black ink line on blank paper?
  • Wide types of input encodings: text, math symbols, drawings, vectors, images…
  • No batteries: no cords or power source either.
  • Open source “software” and hardware technology: anyone can make them, anyone can use them
  • Age-less technology: I can open one of my old notebooks from the last years of the previous century and use it as time hasn’t passed; try that with a Palm Pilot.
  • Fast responsiveness: to begin with, you don’t need to put your fingerprint or passcode, but more than that, jotting things down is faster on paper.

The note-taking brain

But the most important advantage of paper notebooks against digital ones of note-taking apps is related to how your brain is activated in the process. In this domain, paper notebooks have more advantages.

  • Handwriting is a very active visual and tactile task: you have to perceive constant physical sizes and spatial locations — paper provides physical, tactile, and spatiotemporally references to the text.
  • The use of paper enhances the experience of writing adding episodic and spatial information to it: thinking and learning begin in the sensory-motor system and is based on reference frames.

Questions for learning

So, these are my questions — the kind of questions previous to experimentation.

  • What analog tools — paper-based writing or drawing systems — should be part of what you do for work, study, or a hobby?
  • What the pros and cons of still using them? Do they still have value? How to integrate them into your digital daily life?


Author, psychotherapist, coach—Human behavior, UX, media and audiences—Father, husband, meditator—Courses at

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