Perhaps the Luddites had a point

There’s a well-worn legend about the NASA space pen. Costing a million dollars to design, the pen was intended to solve the problem of writing in the no-gravity vacuum of space. The legend tells how the Soviets solved the same problem by using a pencil.

Hipster PDAAnd even though the legend isn’t true, it’s such a helpful metaphor that I still use it often. (Being accountable to the truth is such an inconvenience when I want to make a point.)

The false legend is especially useful for cultural managers, who often feel compelled to adopt new office technologies, even when they have no resources, no training, no support, and no internal staff who have time to make it work. And even when there may be a more elegant and less technological alternative available.

Which is why, even though I’m a technology fanatic, I so enjoy the Luddite alternatives: The simple but obvious adjustments that help clear the clutter of life, using physical folders and actual paper to focus your workweek, and such.

And you have to love the ”Hipster PDA,” a rock-bottom-price alternative to the ubiquitous electronic gadget with the plastic stylus (essentially a stack of index cards and a binder clip). Says the description:

The Hipster PDA (Parietal Disgorgement Aid) is a fully extensible system for coordinating incoming and outgoing data for any aspect of your life and work. It scales brilliantly, degrades gracefully, supports optional categories and ”beaming,” and is configurable to an unlimited number of options. Best of all, the Hipster PDA fits into your hip pocket and costs practically nothing to purchase and maintain.

Computer and communications technology is extraordinarily cool and often powerfully effective. But if it’s easier, cheaper, faster, and more effective to use a pencil…use a pencil.

NOTE: If you’d like a slightly higher-tech alternative to the Hipster PDA, check out PocketMod. Geeky, I’ll admit, but cool.


  1. says

    So true! I used to be so dependent on my PDA — couldn’t leave the house without it. Then I got tired of having to carry it around all the time, so I went without a planner at all for awhile. Of course this didn’t work either for too long. I went around searching for the perfect planner, and realizing it didn’t exist, I made my own! Now I carry my paper “planner” and PENCIL around with me and it has been the most effective time management tool I’ve ever used.

  2. Eduardo Bobren says

    Excellent metaphor. It is easy to think what is more feasible and, of course, creativity helps a lot.

  3. says

    Er, hang on now…I’m having a hard time with the idea of a made-up story being a “useful” metaphor. One could just as easily make up a dozen stories that suggest PDAs are huge improvements over pen-and-paper, yes? Would they then be “useful” metaphors? If so, for what?
    It’s also worth noting that the NASA-pen actual facts form a metaphor in precisely the opposite direction of the false story. In real life both the American and Soviet space programs first used pencils despite that technology being actually _dangerous_ (as explained in the Snopes article). They in fact needed new technology not just for convenience but for essential safety of their people in zero-gravity environments. So the Luddites, in the actual facts of that subject, are dead wrong.
    Similarly with PDAs versus pen-and-paper, the most-critical advantage of PDAs is safety, meaning in this case data backup. You only have to lose a physical planner of whatever form once to learn that the automated-backup aspect of a good PDA is worth all the pens in space, and then some.