Last weekend, New Yorkers of the sort that would devote a Saturday to TED talks — if we go by the crowd in attendance, myself included, the sort is mostly white, middle class, and possessed of a certain faith in technological progress — headed to TEDxDUMBO, whereat they discussed the future of the city. (You can get a rundown of the topics here.) I was interested in the main event, but I also was curious to see how people would take notes.
Why? When you go to a TED event, you expect to see all manner oftechnological wizardry. Sometimes it is simple stuff, plain old geomancy — like the proposal to use toxin-eating microbes, delivered via flung mud balls, to bioremediate the Gowanus Canal — but a lot of times it's outlandishly new, like a pool that acts like a giant Brita filter on the East River. So I also expected to see a little bit of cleverness in the note-taking department. A few laptops, an iPad...who knows what sort of gadgetry my fellow geeks would trot out? A livestream?
Myself, I was taking notes in the drafts folder of my gmail account, tapped by my two meandering thumbs into my dinged-up smartphone screen. At this point I can thumb-tap almost as quickly as I can write, so when I am “covering an event,” I make like I'm sending someone cute a text and write snarky little notes to my future self. It’s less obtrusive and self-conscious than whipping out a notebook (I had also brought my water-damaged old Moleskine), and it saves time: when you have text already partially digitized, your future self can spend more time doing more important stuff, like facepalming while listening to a presidential debate.
Among the crowd at TEDx, I tested this out by taking notes on shoes being worn:
Royal purple suede shoes pushing a scooter with large, squishy wheels.
Some folks in chucks, most in generic leather boots.
One woman in a very nice pair of black leather ankle boot heels. Buffed not shined.
If other people took notes like this, I wouldn’t have seen. But most of those I noticed noting — and not everyone busied themselves scribbling, which makes sense, since all the talks will, eventually, find their way into the great amnesia-inducing cloud — did so with pen and paper. I saw one laptop, and, sure, some people fiddling on their phones, but I assume most of them were tweeting. The variety of notebooks was pleasing to the object-loving eye: the woman next to me was writing on what looked like hotel stationary, and a design student-looking dude had a spiral-bound notebook into which he had sketched the TEDx logo centered in something resembling a comic-book KAPOW!
The continued old-school noting strikes me as kind of strange, even though I am all about journaling longhand — I’ve even written about that on this blog. When you’re taking notes, it seems so much less productive to do so in a notebook, especially if you’re on a deadline. But maybe the slowness, the mechanical aspect of it remains the point, even at something like TED. As technology instrumentalizes more and more of our lives, making them “more efficient” if not “better,” it's refreshing to see block letters scrawled out on cheap, bleach-white pages.
At some point, that’ll make me nostalgic for childhood.
Image via thisisnthappiness.com