As you know, I am a big advocate of writing on paper with a pen. Many studies have shown that we learn and retain more information when we write with our hands. Sure typing can let us capture more information, but writing gives more cognitive context. Today, we mostly type on our keyboards. Some of us have started to use Apple iPad and the Apple Pencil. Jon Callaghan, my partner at True Ventures, is an unabashed fan of Remarkable.

The challenge with these digital writing devices is that they are a “one size fits all” solution. In the analog world, writing instruments are highly personal, and each one fits our unique writing styles, and where we fall in the demographic spectrum — age, gender, and geographic locations define what we use to write. Writing surfaces, aka the paper we like, too are highly personal.

I personally prefer fountain pens and good Japanese paper — and despite using the iPad for pretty much everything, I don’t much care for writing with the Apple Pencil. I like my pens, big and thick, like Sailor King of Pen and a vintage Montblanc 149. The Pencil is too thin and too slippery, and as a result, it is nothing more than an appendage used for photo editing. Navigation with touch and gestures is better on iPad, which was built for touch, not for pencils.

“You have to get ’em, put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.”

Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple.

It is not just Apple’s Pencil — I have never linked any of the digital handwriting devices, including the not-so-great digital writing devices made by luxury pen brand, Montblanc. Personal distaste aside, there is something else that ails the digital writing domain. Ben Brooks’ in his member newsletter, explains this problem with digital devices.

Digital note taking tools all lack universality of pen and paper. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go with pen and paper, you can write on many surfaces, and you can pass off the paper to anyone no matter what tech access they have. It’s truly universal. And this is what bothers me about digital notes: they are proprietary. The Apple Pencil only works with Apple iPads, and other Styli only work with their gear. And none of them work with paper. But they are all needed to make those tools work well.

The Brooks Review
white pen on white table

Beyond that lack of interoperability, another elephant in the room is the very future of the Apple Pencil and the keyboard as an input device. Lately, I have been using Otter.ai as a transcription service. I dictate my ideas, notes, and what I believe could be longer pieces to the service using its app. I get a transcript. I cobble together many such transcripts into a longer piece and eventually go to the “keyboard” to give it a final spit-and-polish.

Admittedly, I have struggled with these voice interfaces for many years — I have an accent and don’t have perfect diction. As a result, I experience frustration when using Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and other services. However, it would be unfair of me to say that they are standing still. For instance, I use Otter for my transcriptions, and it does a decent enough job of transcribing my notes. The interview audio files get better results.

I am inreasingly bullish about the voice-to-computer interface, mostly because of the rapid increase in the capabilities of chips focused on machine learning. Both, desktop and mobile devices are seeing a sharp increase in the capabilities of graphic processing units and neural engines. The chips are only one part of the equation. Software too is getting better.

But more importantly, we have a whole generation of kids growing up talking to their machines — and I wonder if in the future keyboards will become relegated into the background. If you saw the movie, Her1 , then you know it is not outside the realm of possiblity.

August 9, 2021, San Francisco

  1. KK Barrett interview[]
black text on gray background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

E. B. White, an essayist for The New Yorker (and author of many books), once said: 

"A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." 

He probably was describing me — during the last week. At the start of this month, I set myself a goal — blog 500-word pieces every day. It was an effort to become a writing fit. I hope to write for a column for a publication shortly, and I want to regain my writing skills. As you might have gathered, I didn’t hit my goals this week. 

This week’s failure made me reflect on my past. When I was a professional writer (blogger, if you are pedantic), my writing was reactive, whether to some breaking news or a conversation or an interview. And on rare occasions, it would be like a finished lego set — where many bits and pieces from conversations, facts, news events, and theories would all neatly fit together. Whatever it was — being in the flow is a big part of writing steadily — one needs external input to spark internal creativity. 

Another crucial difference, perhaps, is that I have different commitments on my time today than in the past. I am less singular about writing about technology (and its impact) than I used to be. While technology is still a primary lens with how I view my world (and life), I find myself spending more time on the science of technology and have found a waning interest in the business of technology. Unicorns don’t excite me. And more importantly, the world of technology has become more complex and thus needs a lot more research, understanding, and deliberation. 

Since leaving the profession, I have discovered a passion for photography, and I think about it a lot. And with age, I have started to gravitate towards the “finished lego set” type of writing. And the timing of that writing has a bit of unpredictability to it. It is also an outcome of a set of random events that don’t happen as often. (Example: my essay, 40 Kilometers.) 

In that sense, I am much closer to writing like Susan Sontag, who, when asked about her writing regimen, said:

I write when I have to because the pressure builds up, and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really underway, I don't want to do anything else. 

Nevertheless, I know I have to develop a schedule to sit down and write for the remaining days of the month. Ideally, it will be first thing in the morning, long before the sun comes up and my phone starts distracting me from the words that matter. The good news is that I am an early riser. 

August 7, 2021. San Francisco 


TWeek That Was

white and black cat sketch
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Aug 2: Hey  @JasonHirschhorn  how about one of your special essays about  @MTV and joining the middle age yesterday? (I want my MTV is now 40 years old. Ouch.)

Aug 2: It is not the customer’s fault the network is being deprecated. So @AmazonKindle  has to step up & not be cheap. Replace old Kindles with the new ones. They will make up the costs in years of buying the new ebooks. The Verge

Aug 3: Tom Standage is an editor for The Economist and has a new book coming out on “the social history of the car, and why it’s the 1890s all over again.”  Tom is a great writer and a wonderful book author. Every one of his books sits in my library. Victorian Internet was/is my favorite.

Aug 3: Hey  @KP24  actually @JemiRodrigues is the leading run-scorer in @thehundred not @BenDuckett1  

Aug 4: From  @business newsletter today: “Zoom’s share of the video-conferencing market rose by 10% points to 76%” in Q2 from Q1. Translation: @Zoom has won the video conferencing sweepstakes

Aug 4: Here is  @SpaceXStarlink by the numbers: 90k subscribers. Active in 12 countries. Half a million on the waiting list. 1700 satellites deployed. My takeaway: huge demand for rural/off-the-grid connectivity, that incumbents failed to deliver.

Aug 6: Happy 30th birthday World Wide Web (WWW). What a wonderful gift to society (despite all the naysayers)  @timberners_lee 

Homestead

Are newsletters the new blogs — or is it that blogs are newsletters? I can’t tell. For me, however, the blog is my homestead.  A homestead is an isolated dwelling, with some adjacent buildings, built on a large plot of land. They are not only independent, but they are devoid of the cacophony of busy … Continue reading Homestead

Pete Hamill, RIP

I didn’t have the luxury to study the fine arts in college. I didn’t go to journalism school. So all my writing skills were acquired by osmosis and practice. I would voraciously read books — all types of books. From noir to travel to classics — everything that I could find in my local library. … Continue reading Pete Hamill, RIP