Thursday, September 22, 2005

Confessions of an Electronic Organization Junkie

I’ve only recently moved from the world of cubicles back into the halls of academia, and in the process, I’ve discovered how comfortable I’ve become with using technology to organize my life in the last few years.

I knew, of course, from the fabled paper-crowded state of my cubicle that while I could find out most things electronically in a few seconds, I was getting worse and worse at filing printed matter. And I knew that while I’d always failed at keeping track of my schedule in a paper-bound day-planner, I had become completely comfortable with using Outlook to keep track of my meetings. I knew that email and IM had become normal ways to communicate. And I was still awed by the program I’d recently found to transfer to-do lists and other notes to my iPod, even though it didn’t work quite perfectly.

It made sense—after all, my job for the last five years has been to organize web content. And for the last two years, I’d been studying usability of electronic interfaces. During those periods, I clearly had lots of opportunity to find the advantages of electronic organization methods as well as their limitations. And to figure out which ones worked for me and which didn’t.

But until I went back to school as a graduate student and looked around for ways to organize my student life more efficiently than I’d done as an undergraduate, I didn’t realize how much I’d learned to appreciate technology as a means to that end. Although there are lots of laptops on campus and an impressive intranet system, I’m surprised at how many standard 3-hole-punched notebooks, folders, and overheads I’ve seen in classes. What a culture shock for one coming from the world hailing the joys of the new technology.

Of course, I was as annoyed as anyone when the university’s intranet was mostly down the first week of classes. But it has a great little calendar function where I can keep track of my meetings, my class times, and my tasks, and that makes me happy. And though I’m doing okay with the paper handouts so far (I even bought folders last week to organize them), I have great joy when there’s an electronic edition.

There are, of course, things it’s better to use paper for, organization-wise (and after all, I write most creative writing drafts on paper). But since I’m not big on taking a lot of time to organize my life and have found some helpful electronic tools, I find myself using those more than the other versions of the tools. And I wonder, in the future, whether that will be the trend, gradual though it may be. I doubt if electronic media will ever replace paper (I really don’t think paper books, for instance, are going away soon), but I wonder in what new unexpected ways paper will shift its place in society in the future. Some things--and some people--will surely always use it, and reject new technologies, or selectively adopt new technologies. And personalities, and people's organizational styles, will always have a certain part in dictating which technologies people adopt. After all, I still refuse to own a palm pilot.

No comments: