From this Sunday’s NY Times, a fascinating article covering the war that no one is covering, that is, the fight over daily planning and calendar-keeping technology. In an age of means and perfectionistic pursuits of efficiency, what does one do? Filofax or iCal? The choice between electronic and brick-and-mortar modes of organization is evidently a hot one at the moment, and one that obviously has more to do with matters of personal identity than with what will survive an unfortunate plop in the commode. Why not make the move to something that syncs seamlessly with our other convenient technological applications? And what is really being said about our lives when some of the most modern, in-sync individuals make their Filofax the final defended frontier?
LAST month, I did something that not once in my 20 years as an overscheduled, neurotically punctual, paper-bound calendar keeper had I done before: I left my personal organizer (as Filofaxes, Day Runners and such are known to the trade) at the office.
Not only that, I forgot it there on a Friday, leaving me clueless and unmoored for an entire weekend. What was I supposed to do on Saturday? What were my children supposed to do? Were birthday parties left unattended, errands unrun? On Sunday night, deprived of my ritual week-ahead review, I had nothing to worry about except what I didn’t know I should be worrying about.
This sorry situation had, of course, a solution, one embraced by many: convert to iCal, Google Calendar, Outlook or any number of other electronic personal-information management systems (as they are known to the trade). You can instantly update. You can sync. You can seamlessly integrate personal and professional into a harmoniously unified oneness.
I would rather live a life of 1,000 missed appointments.
So much of our social and professional lives are determined by the systems we use to keep track of them. With more people converting to electronic calendars or hovering between paper and PDA, how we construct and coordinate our schedules is in flux. And no matter how synchronized our intertwined lives have become, a certain amount of calendar clashing is inevitable.
…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. There’s something inherently appealing about its physicality, he said. “I am always doodling and sketching and making insane little micro notes to myself.”
Elizabeth Beier, executive editor at St. Martin’s Press, has kept the same agenda since the mid-’80s, when she bought it in London at the Filofax boutique. “I have the standard size with a cover that used to be green and a handsome little snap that has since rotted off,” she said. “I feel like it’s lived with me so long that it’s earned its decrepitude.”
…The yawning gap between work and home can be welcome. Even electronic aficionados concede that the lines blur on a networked system. When Christena Nippert-Eng, a sociologist at the Illinois Institute of Technology, conducted a study of how people balanced their lives, two objects had significance: keys and a calendar. “People who merged their home and work keep all their keys on one chain and all their home and work commitments on one calendar.”
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.”
Such abiding loyalty to a paper planner is more fear-driven than preferential. Why not decide not to check e-mail, the Google calendar, whatever, once you’ve arrived home? If the worry is that there’s no longer a separateness between the offices of one’s life, what does that say about one’s self-impelled guilt and one’s agency to control one’s appetite for, well, control? Why not make that plan? With those “paperites,” there’s a implied recognition that, if I make this move to the electronic, I will completely lose my grip on what’s mine.
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. But electronic calendar users often thrive on the convenience that comes from synchronicity. Gina Neff, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Washington, shares an electronic calendar with her husband. “He’s always inviting me to meetings that I don’t need to be at but need to know about in order to schedule myself around them,” she said. “It’s totally distracting, but it works.”
Some might say it’s T.M.I. Ms. Neff’s husband even “invites” her, in the terminology of electronic calendaring, to his guys’ night out. “I know when he’s playing Xbox with one of his oldest friends and so have the night free.”
…Even committed paper calendar keepers, like Muffie Potter Aston, a socialite and philanthropist, concede there are drawbacks to their approach. “It would no doubt be wonderful to just be at a meeting and be able to agree to a date on the spot,” said Ms. Aston, who keeps a desk calendar at home. But like other paper keepers, she’s reluctant to cross over electronically, partly out of fear. “I’ve suffered too many computer meltdowns that have almost melted me down. Maybe if I had a little computer genie that handled the glitches, I could make the switch.”
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. …