Photo of two different sized MD Notebooks next to a Yamada Heiando pen tray with three different pens from Platinum.

I Couldn’t Stand Pen & Paper In University – Now I Prefer It

Five years is a curious measure of time. It seems to be a standard we often resort to to gauge how much things change over a standard interval. I would argue the question, “Where do you see yourself five years from now,” is both infamous and a trick question. Maybe it’s because I seem to be always working now, but I think five years is a much shorter span than it appears.

So why do I bring up the passage of time on a post about analog writing methods? Because it’s been five years since I graduated from Drexel, where I absolutely despised the classes that wouldn’t allow note taking on a laptop. Maybe it was because I was already carrying enough stuff in my university-issued laptop bag, or maybe it was because all I could afford were those cheap, crappy spiral-ring notebooks and boxes of disposable 0.5mm pens every office supply store would sell in bulk at the traditional start of the school year (Drexel went year-round, yes even in the Summer), but back then, I thought digital was better. Why wouldn’t you want to choose the virtually unlimited “paper” and searchability a laptop offered? Even Sony thought digital was the way to go by introducing an E-Ink tablet that was exclusively for note taking… at a price point of $1,100 – more than double the price of the cheapest iPad at the time and with half the storage space. Remarkably, that was a product that wasn’t discontinued until late last year.

So with all the advancements that have been made in tablets and laptops – both in terms of hardware and software – since 2015, why would I want to switch back to analogue methods now? If it weren’t for the lack of Final Cut, my iPad Pro could replace my laptop. I don’t think there has been one particular thing that has influenced my choice, but there are two things that have changed that have definitely played a role.

If you ignore the two swollen batteries I’ve had, I still think the Mid-2015 MacBook Pro is the best laptop Apple has ever made. But, it’s not something I’m constantly carrying around with me anymore, especially not to work. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) isn’t exactly a concept Kroger supports, and the desk I had at the office definitely would not have accommodated a second laptop. So why not use my work laptop for notes? For a time, I did, but the roles I’ve held at Kroger require me to have so many things open at a time, there usually isn’t enough room to cram Notepad in there too.

So, I changed to having a physical notepad on my desk. At first, it was one of those typical bulky legal-sized notepads you often see in offices. Since I was getting tired of constantly throwing out pens, I also decided to completely change the kind of pen I use: I bought a fountain pen. At $20 on Amazon (at the time), the Pilot Metropolitan was just slightly more than a box of throwaway UniBalls and the included converter made it refillable. It was the first good quality pen I ever bought (and still have), and that made a huge difference in my preference to write things down.

This was around the same time MUJI opened their first West Coast store here in Portland. If you’re not lucky enough to live near a MUJI, they have a decent selection of stationary at reasonable pricing without any branding on them. My first purchase? One very plain-looking, blue colored notebook.

A few months later, Portland would also see the opening of a Kinokuniya, a few blocks up the road from MUJI no less. With it came an extensive stationary section. Everything from entry-level pens to more premium/professional ones were on offer with an equally expansive range of papers and notebooks.

Now, to be fair, the investments I’ve made in pens and notebooks in the last year are unlikely to be ones I would have ever made during my years in Drexel. While I probably could have invested in the MD Notebook I have now, at $260, there’s no way I would have ever bought my now prefered pen, a Platinum Kanazawa Leaf.

In closing, I think there are a number of factors that have influenced why so-called “old-fashioned” pen and paper have come to grow on me, but I do think time has been the largest factor. I don’t work the way I did in my university years, and while bills are definitely a thing, I feel comfortable enough with my cash flow to make an investment in quality stationary that would have been out of the question while I was at Drexel.

Will I change my mind again in five years? If using five years as a standard measurement of time has taught me anything, it’s that anything is possible, and five-year plans rarely go according to plan.