The New York Times is scared to death by digital calendars
New York Times, I love you — but sometimes you really show your age. In today’s paper in the Sunday Styles section, the NYT prints an article by Pamela Paul focused on those rare birds who still utilize a paper calendar (or Filofax) in their day-to-day lives. Now, as a man with a spouse who also uses a paper calendar, I found the premise of the article somewhat interesting. The execution, however, was rife with inaccuracies and half-truths about why someone would want — or needs — to avoid electronic calendaring systems.
The gist of the piece is that somehow paper folios are more resilient, secure, and permanent than those stored on BlackBerrys, iPhones, in Google Calendar, or on your computer. And that simply is not the case.
What’s most troubling about the article are the numerous quotes from those profiled by the author which go unchecked and unchallenged. Based on some of these highly uninformed (or purposefully ignorant?), circa-1992 attitudes about computers and how they store data, an average reader might walk away from the piece thinking that not only are electronic calendars inferior to paper versions, but they will maliciously attempt to harm your data.
Let me pull some choice passages here:
Mr. George uses a datebook that fits in his back pocket. “People make comments about it,” he said. “They show me their little technology. But then they sit there tapping on their device, and by the time they’ve gone through all the log-ins and downloading, I’ve already flipped the page.”
Though it may be counterintuitive (electronic calendar keepers insist their method is more reliable than the ephemera of paper), those who use a paper calendar see it as the more durable option. Mr. George has dropped his BlackBerry in water three times — something he believes wouldn’t or couldn’t threaten his notebook.
For starters, what service or device are Nelson George’s friends using which requires them to “log-in” or “download” anything to use a calendar? Nearly all modern mobile devices have a native calendar application built-in which is almost instantaneous to access. This applies to any computer sold after 1995, too. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that Mr. George’s data would be safer on paper than in any digital environment which requires syncing — and that goes for most BlackBerrys tied to a corporate server, all iPhones, all Android phones, and all webOS devices. The latter two sync only from and to the cloud (Apple will join them soon), which means your data is held in perpetuity across countless backup servers. Something tells me you’ll have better luck restoring your calendar from the cloud than you will off of waterlogged paper covered in running ink.
You would think at this point Ms. Paul would offer a counter argument to this statement, but instead she goes on, reinforcing the sentiment with another quote:
The fear of submerging an electronic calendar has a peculiar hold on the paper-ites. “Even if I dropped my agenda in the bath, I could still fish it out,” Simon Doonan, creative ambassador at large for Barneys, said in defense of his yellow Goyard, monogrammed in orange, gold, burgundy and blue.
Outrageous! Not only have we learned that the “creative ambassador” for Barneys doesn’t use or need a corporate calendar (a truth nearly impossible to accept), but that he thinks paper is more resistant to water than bits stored in multiple locations. But wait, he’s not alone — Ms. Paul informs us that Elizabeth Beier, executive editor at the massive publishing house St. Martin’s Press also won’t use a corporate calendar or associated device. How can this be? Does she simply ignore company meetings? Does a company like St. Martin’s Press still rely on paper calendars across the corporation? Does the imprint which publishes 700 titles a year have no use for electronic communication? Or, more to the point, does Beier rely on a BlackBerry we aren’t told about, or an assistant who manages her calendar digitally? We’ll never know, because Pamela Paul never asks.
Later in the article, Paul doesn’t miss a beat as she conflates the concept of “friending” people you don’t know that well on Facebook and your personal calendar data being exposed to strangers. Here she cites sociologist Christena Nippert-Eng:
The study led Ms. Nippert-Eng to examine how calendar use affects privacy. “Electronically managing everything — friends, communications, information — is a good way to break down the boundaries between the different parts of your life,” she said. “Some people are O.K. with blurred boundaries. They’ll ‘friend’ anyone. But it makes it harder to keep aspects of your life separate.”
Part of what raises the paper team’s hackles about electronic systems is that others may become privy to an afternoon’s haircut or a therapy appointment.
Never mind that there is no digital relationship to the calendar you keep in iCal, Google Calendar, RIM’s servers, or Outlook to Facebook. Facts get in the way of a good story. And how good is a story when you insinuate that the use of electronic versus paper calendars can drive a wedge into a relationship? Here’s the article’s take on how calendars may destroy your marriage:
“That’s all my wife and I do: argue about her paper calendar and my electronic one,” David Shenk, a Brooklyn-based author, said partly in jest. Mr. Shenk is in the process of converting his wife, at least in part, to his system. “But if she doesn’t input information in the right account or the Internet is down, it may not sync,” he said. “I get mad at her for not doing it right, but of course it’s not her fault: it’s a very complicated process.”
I suppose we can all understand this. It’s true that had I not attended a community college night class on entering appointments into my digital calendar, I might have had relationship trouble too.
But honestly — how can anyone repeat this luddite drivel with a straight face? It’s not just that much of what is printed in this article is untrue — a lot of it comes off as downright silly, and the author doesn’t seem to take a moment to ask any of these people to qualify their statements. It’s like she wrote the piece to back up arguments made by those profiled. The result is a piece that seems more intent on propagating one skewed view than it does with telling a story that has legitimate meaning.
I think the article’s final paragraph from Ms. Paul says it all:
As for me, it would take cold hard cash to make me cross over. Of course, I said that about the cellphone and Facebook, too. Now, how to explain all this in 140 characters or less.
Better yet, Pamela, why don’t you take a stab at explaining it in the 2000 word article first?
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