Paper Beats Everything

Imagine a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, only you substitute the usual combatants with a bullet journal, a mobile phone, and a computer. Through bitter experience, I have discovered that when compared against common use-cases, the bullet journal beats everything else.


If you are somewhat incredulous at the suggestion that a simple paper notebook is in any way better than a computer at anything, you’re not alone. Until very recently I shared your apprehension.

What about searching? Surely a computer can find old notes far more easily than a human leafing through a paper notebook?

What about sorting and filtering? The computer can re-organise past notes into any order, grouping, or filtered set at the drop of a hat.

Stacking the deck

While computers are very good at shuffling decks of cards, they are not so good at conjuring the thoughts, ideas, and insights that might be recorded on those cards. What’s more, a computer will want the content of a card constrained to fit a system of some sort — with a title, a body, some text, a picture, and so on. Suddenly we find ourselves contorting our thoughts to fit a model through which we might record them.

Intelligence remains elusive

The human brain remains something of a mystery, with attempts to emulate its machinations echoing the story of “Deep Thought” in Douglas Adams book “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

Google’s “DeepMind” subsidiary created an artificial intelligence called “Alpha Zero” that learned to play chess well enough in a few hours to beat the most skilled chess software anybody had ever written. Here’s the thing though; years later “experts” are still pouring over the results, trying to make sense of quite how Alpha Zero won.

What does this have to do with note-taking? If we agree that we don’t understand how our brain comes up with things, it seems foolish to try and establish any sort of system to record the thoughts emanating from it.

Suddenly a blank piece of paper makes a lot of sense.

Hacking the human body

While trying to figure out why paper notebooks continue to exist in a world filled with computers, the internet, and all manner of technological wonders that can record everything we see and hear throughout the day, I chanced upon “kinaesthetic learning”.

Kinaesthetic, or “tactile” learning is the process that results in new knowledge or understanding given the involvement of the learner’s own body movement. In studies, kinaesthetic learning occurs when the learner uses their own words in order to define, explain, resolve and sort out the way in which his or her own body’s movement reflects the concept explored.

All manner of gesticulations suddenly make sense — from counting on fingers to rubbing temples, lifting eyebrows, and perhaps most importantly — writing on paper.

Solving the here and now

Given that we are terrible at remembering anything that hasn’t required physical interaction, or the involvement of some sort of story, it suddenly makes sense why paper notebooks exist. It very much looks like paper notebooks take advantage of this long-known but little understood exploit of the human body.

Writing things down helps both short term memory, and understanding.

While we might endeavour to invent online calendars, notebooks, databases, tasks lists, repositories and silos containing our thoughts, ideas, plans, and inventions, it turns out those thoughts are exported, rather than recorded. While this is fine if we plan to re-learn or re-teach ourselves about a given topic, it doesn’t help us today.

Enter the Bullet Journal from stage left

I wonder if Ryder Carroll knew about kinaesthetics while refining the ideas behind the bullet journal? The simple task of writing down today becomes a masterful mindfulness hack.

The migration of that which we have not done, and that which we might do through the written word exploits the tactile connection between our body and brain in ways that computers, the internet, and the cloud never can, and never will.



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