Computers, Pen and Paper

I’ve been using computers for a very long time. I remember being in New Jersey as a young kid and my parents purchasing for my brother and me a Commodore 64 computer. We primarily used it for video games when we first got it, but later after we moved from Livingston to Montgomery Township, I remember one day my parents purchasing a monitor and dot matrix printer, as my brother was starting to use the computer for word processing to do papers for his class. We still used it for games, but we also started to both do a bit of word processing then. (Whenever I think of those times, I think of my parents and how amazing they were to purchase such a thing for us, as they came to America with not much and really did just establish a whole life here.)

Before we moved to Georgia, I remember starting to get into the idea of wanting a new computer. First it was an Amiga, then a friend planted the idea of a Macintosh. When we got to Georgia (this was around the 7th grade I think) a friend there recommended to purchase an IBM (not the IBM brand, just that we all called it IBM then and not “a Windows computer”). Well, after asking my parents (well, asking to put it nicely, I was rather young after all), my father and I went to a computer store and purchased the first computer for me, a 386SX-16.

So, from that point on I was in the world of DOS, Windows 3.1 to 95 to 98, and so on. I remember sometime in later high school trading in my computer and with some money I earned at a job moving up to a homebrewed 486 system. The last computer my parents purchased for me was when I was going to college, my father purchased an HP pentium 150 computer, which I used all throughout college.

I remember thinking near the end of college how nice it would be to get a faster computer, as back then the differences in computers from one year to the next were really much more noticable than they have been the past few years. One thing that always got me was seeing friends who had much faster computers using them for gaming, while here I was working hard to put together computer music pieces on my old computer, waiting for sounds to render, and feeling somehow strange that so much computing power was being used not for something productive.

That computer lasted me until after college and when I got to New York, when I started to work and make a living for myself. From that point on I purchased my own computers and parts whenever I felt the advantage of more processing power was worth it. I never really had the greatest computer in the world, but always enough for my needs.

When I left New York, I also stopped using desktops and got into laptops, being on my second one now. I find them fantastic as I always have my work on me, which for someone living two lives–a day job as programmer, and my life as a composer–any time available to be working on music is always precious. I’ve often gotten some of my best work done while travelling, in airports and whereever I end up travelling to, and it’s great to be able to take work to a cafe on occasion.

What I wanted to discuss in all of the long history above is that I’ve been using computers for a long while, doing a lot of my work on them (for my day job and personal music and writing work). Yet, some experiences here in Krakow have been incredibly enlightening, and that is how much I enjoy pen and paper.

While using computers for most of my life, I often used pen and paper in school for note taking and for school at home while studying. In college, I would often use paper for taking notes in class and while reading books in cafes for drafting musical ideas. There something to the experience of using pen an paper that makes ideas so much easier to work out, as if somehow they are more tangible that way. They also seem to stick much better in my mind, as if by writing it somehow it locks it into memory.

When I got to New York, I got my first PDA (a Palm IIIxe) which I used off and on for four years, primarily for keeping todo lists. This replaced the paper and pencil todo lists I used to keep anyways, and was incredibly useful. It wasn’t until this past year I switch to my current PDA (a Sharp Zaurus 5600), and now besides todo lists I’ve started to organize my calendars using the wonderful KO/PI software. This PDA too has been very good for writing down notes to myself and planning my time, as well as having drafts of pieces I’m working on to listen to, amongst many other things. Overall, I’ve gotten to enjoy using PDA’s very much and find them a very useful part of organizing myself.

However, as time passed while living in New York and then in San Francisco, I noticed I also used pen and paper much less. When I first started to program I would take notes on texts I read, and later when I was architecting software I would use pen and paper to draw out ideas. As I got better with programming though, it became much less necessary for this, so even here my use of pen and paper waned with time.

Comparing myself to times in college and before, I find now (at least, when I am back in my work life at home) that often I have a hard time focusing when I do have spare time for music. Just takes longer to clear the mind than it used to and to get into that world of focused attention. Life is also very different now then when in college, so there’s many reasons for all of this I’m sure.

However, one of the really great experiences I had here in Krakow was that on a few occasions I spent time with just a pen and a notebook and simply spent time thinking out ideas and writing about them, illustrating them. And although only a few times, and really not that much time spent while doing so, each time was incredibly helpful. The ideas I had thought about and wrote down were very helpful in getting me further along in both general music thought as well as helping me to understand the piece I’ve been working.

It was incredibly enlightening to me this experience, and really revealed to me how little time I spent with pen and paper, and how much I really do enjoy doing so. Not that all of the other tools I use (computers, PDA) are not incredibly powerful and useful tools, but rather that this simple tool is something I have not been taking advantage of, and it is something that complements the others very much and brings something the others can not. Only a few days now left in Krakow, but I think if I could take any one lesson back with me to my daily life in San Francisco, I think it would be the usefulness of pen and paper to my personal work. I think that spending time contemplating with these tools will very much become a part of my daily life.

p.s. – Mom and Dad, if you ever stumble upon my website and read this, I just wanted to say I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the sacrifices you made for me in terms of spending money on computers and of course more importantly all the other intangible things. I know that it wasn’t easy to make purchases like that, and so just want to let you know that it was and is very much appreciated. ^_^

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