When I met a client in London last week, I noticed he walked into the meeting with an iPad and nothing else, it made me feel a bit old fashioned with my notebook and pen.
That morning I had popped into Muji and bought myself 2 journals, don’t ask why, I’m just addicted to buying them.
So, in the meeting I asked my client if he ever used paper notebooks and he said he no longer did. Pulling out one of the journals, I said, “Oh well thats a shame because I was going to give you one of these”. His face lit up and he said “Actually, that was a lie, I do use notebooks to jot things down.”
I read an old article in the Independent about increasing sales of stationery. The article is concerned with letter writing but I believe the sales of journals and other types of stationery are also booming. John Lewis are reporting a near doubling of sales year on year, the link to the Independent article is below:
Journals and Notebooks
I have been buying paper diaries and notebooks since the late 1970s. In the old days, the choices were limited, you could either go and buy cheap notebooks from Woolworths or spend a small fortune on leather-bound products from the likes of Smythson of Bond Street.
In the 1980s, we saw the emergence of the Filofax. The Filofax was the nearest thing we had seen to an all encompassing organiser and everybody wanted one despite the Yuppie stigma that was attached to it. I bought one but could never really get to grips with it as anything other than a very bulky diary. The ring binder was a pain in such a small book, you never really knew what to do with last year’s pages and the addresses quickly filled up unevenly – S was full, WXYZ was empty.
In the 1990s we started to see creative solutions appearing such as leather bound journals made in Indian workshops. They weren’t organisers, just books, usually with plain paper. Paperchase were producing writing books designed by people who clearly didn’t understand the needs of a writer. They had somehow missed the point when they created A4 sized, bound, hardback writing books that weighed 5kg. In their mind’s eye when people wanted to write they always did it sitting at a desk (probably the polished mahogany type of desk) with a quill and an inkwell.
When I look at Moleskine products now, I realise that they changed everything. Suddenly we had a portable notebook that was simple and functional. It addressed the needs of most people by giving them what they wanted – paper in whatever style you wanted and a small space to store receipts and other bits of paper. The quality of the paper was good, it looked appropriate in an office or on holiday. Since then, other stationery manufacturers have risen up inspired by the success of Moleskine. Yes, yes, I know that the marketing blurb about Bruce Chatwin etc is bordering on total guff but you do have to give them some respect for having created a great product.
When the Moleskine products were re-marketed and became widely available, there was great doubt regarding the future of writing by hand on paper. The tsunami of the internet age threatened to wash away paper products like flotsam. As technology takes on a calmer and more predictable development path, paper products have re-emerged stronger, more inventive and working hard for their money. They are also more affordable now than I can ever remember them being.
Today’s essential tools usually involve a phone, a small computer and the ever trusty notebook.
The future of paper in the digital age
Yesterday walking around the shops with my friend Robbie, we walked past an O2 mobile phone shop and in the window we saw a Samsung Galaxy tablet computer. I told him it was amazing because it comes with a stylus that you can write on it with. I then went on to explain how the stylus is better than the one on the iPad because it has a finer point.
As we were walking away from the shop I realised how ridiculous I sounded and said “of course you could just go and buy a notebook and pen to do the same thing” – we laughed.
When I write, there is something that lights up in my brain when a pen in my hand touches paper, the freehand spirals and doodles that appear are made during the periods when one part of my brain needs a break and the other part takes over. There is something primal about it that is never there when I am tapping on a keyboard or struggling with a piece of rubber on a glass screen.
When I send a one sentence text or email to a friend, it feels cheap, there is little thought that has gone into it. It feels cheap because it is cheap, it is throwaway comments and sentiments in a fast moving environment. Writing a letter to somebody requires time to be spent thinking about the composition, it is like a meditation on yourself and on your thoughts about the person you are writing to. It involves emotion and a certain amount of openness. It gives both parties an opportunity to sit and reflect.
In my opinion, paper has a place in modern society. Perhaps it’s days are limited in business where corporations strive for the paperless office but in our personal lives it is making a comeback. We would probably all be healthier in body and mind if we all learned to slow down a bit and turn off our screens.
To me, paper has become symbolic of a wider need to go back to our roots.