Monday, August 14, 2006
The Perfect System

I've spent most of the afternoon trying to set up a personal status page -- y'know, just a page where I can keep all my crap online: links and contacts and small files and To Do lists and things like that. It's a pain in the ass. There are a thousand web apps out there that do one thing well, but good fucking luck pulling it all together. Tags aren't the answer; RSS isn't the answer; del.icio.us definitely isn't the answer. Backpack is closer, but it's still not quite there. Someday, I have no doubt, Google will know everything about every tiny facet of my life -- what I read online, what I have to do this week, where my sexual tastes lie, and who I'm indulging them with -- and will produce any answer I need from that one omnipotent search box. But even they, mighty as they are, haven't yet gotten that far. (I'm still refusing to use their calendar -- I don't want any major corporation knowing everything about me.) My email inbox is clean; all my messages get filed carefully away on a near-daily basis. My bookmarks are filed as I make them, with descriptive names, and I keep them clear of duplicates and dead links. Some aspects of my life are a chronic mess, but my digital life is square, bitch.

The problem is, it always feels like something is missing, some crucial link that will bring everything together. This is probably partly because I'm laptopless -- if I want data when I'm away from my computer, I have to email it or write it down on paper or post it somewhere else. Every element has to be recorded multiple times -- most of my phone numbers, for example, are recorded once in my address book, once in my phone, and once in my email client's address book, and the ones I use most often are also listed again in a file I can access online. I'm not sure if recording everything four times means I'm really organized or really disorganized. But I know from frustrating experience that no program yet devised actually does exactly what it says on the wrapper. I use RSS feeds every day, and I often feel like I should be using them more, but feeds never work as well as they're supposed to. Having fifty feeds that send me something useful once every three months is just one more goddamn thing I have to keep up with.

There are some things that I still can't bring myself to do on a computer; there are some tasks for which a tool will only get in the way. I can't think and makes notes on a computer -- I still need a good pen and a notebook for that. (Though even that is better done with the right tools -- I fetishistically use Moleskine Cahiers notebooks, which are big enough for making thought clusters, and with enough pages for a big project, but not so many that I feel overly-committed. And they have to be in "buff" -- I need to be able to write on the cover if I want to.) I have an elaborate system of notebooks -- I always carry one for random notetaking, one each for any relevant projects, and a black address book. And I use a hipster PDA for anything that doesn't merit a page in the notebooks. Writing stuff down is still my favored means of collecting information -- I've long since gotten over looking for digital solutions to tasks that are best completed with ink on paper -- but if it's on paper, I can't index it or search it or zap it off to somebody else. When did my life begin to exist on two incompatible planes?

PS: And while we're discussing my search for the perfect system, can anybody give me some helpful tips on finding the perfect bag?
8:27 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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