My fan has asked me to talk about PDAs. This is great for two reasons: because
I have a lot to say about PDAs and because I learned I had a fan.
First of all, let's just make sure we're on the same page. We'll be talking
about Personal Digital Assistants, not Push-Down Automata or Public
Display of Affection.
In my frugal but gadget-filled life I've managed to own a PDA or two, and
before that several Franklin planners and the like. I am, at heart, an
organized person. Or at least, a person drawn to organization. When I was
younger I obsessed over my Franklin planner, filled out lots of those
enlightened forms, did the daily planning thing at least half of the time, and
kept my pretty simple life pretty well organized.
When I served a mission for my church they had these
cardstock one-page double-sided planners, where you could keep track of who you
were visiting and teaching, and your calendar for the week. We were supposed to
plan every hour of the day each morning so as to maintain peak efficiency
(think Seven of Nine). Some missionaries ignored these planners whenever they
could get away with it. Others used them precisely as they were designed to be
used. I, with the help of some of my wiser companions, developed a system that
was both less tedious and more effective (for me, anyway). It involved ignoring
the column headings and writing down more information, omitting some useless
information that was asked for, and using symbols and squiggly lines to
communicate various bits of information. I learned two important truths:
planner forms are like speedos and programming languages (one size does not fit
all), and pen and paper is amazing in its flexibility and ability to
Fast forward to the day of ubiquitous PDAs. I got my hands on an old Palm Pilot
and had loads of fun as any geek will with a new gadget. I used it at least as
much as I used to use my old Franklin planners. But I knew it was just a game.
Then I got my hands on a newer old Handspring Visor and had a little more fun
(more RAM) but rarely used it for more than the occasional Project Gutenberg
book. I've come to accept and even embrace the truth. I just don't use PDAs.
Let's take a look at what a PDA is and what it's supposed to accomplish. It is
a little slow computer with a little screen, terribly slow input, and no
networking (that I can afford). It's supposed to make your life organized and
productive and help you do all those things that will make you rich and famous,
or at least be a fun toy to entertain yourself during boring meetings. For me,
it accomplishes none of these things except perhaps the entertainment during
meetings, and it's not very attractive on its own merits as a computer.
Besides, ever since I got a laptop I have a real computer I can play with in
almost as many places as I could play with my PDA.
The one thing a PDA does do is hold text. Lots of text, although never quite
enough. I can tote my latest Project Gutenberg book and Scriptures around and
read them wherever I like. This is nice, when I do much moving around. When I
was commuting on the bus every day for an hour I used my PDA as an eBook reader
extensively. It does the job, but I'm hoping for that electronic paper any year
now, which will be so much nicer. In the meantime I am either at home, in my
office at school, or in class/church 90% of the time. The rest of the time I'm
doing husbandly/fatherly things which don't involve PDAs anyway (at least, not
the digital kind), so I have little use for my PDA and don't even know where it
is at the moment.
However there's still that little bit about being organized. I'm not
anti-planner, I'm just anti form and anti PDA-as-planner. After all, a PDA is
just a glorified form when used for planning. I have gone back to what I
learned on my mission. I plan with pen and paper. I use a Hipster
PDA and a
Fisher Stowaway Space
hipster is just some index cards on which I scribble whatever I want.
Frequently, when my life gets busy enough to warrant it, I quarter an index
card and write my tasks in the appropriate quarters (one of the things I took
away from Covey). Whenever the need arises I take notes on a card. Occasinally
I throw away the cruft. I have a card for frequently-wanted telephone numbers
and a card with my name, email, and phone number on it. That's it. That's my
PDA. Aside from eBooks and meeting distractions no PDA can hold a candle to my
On a related note, I find ye olde composition notebook is all I need for my
school notetaking, brainstorming, designing, doodling, and logbooking. And to
think I used to think they were the silliest thing in the school aisle. They have a miniature version which would make a great alternative to an index-card Hipster PDA.