“IN” devices, “OUT” devices

I always had a craving for a device that would fix my productivity issues. Years ago I imagined if I could just keep my notes, tasks, reminders and e-mails in one place, that would be it. Mail.app in Leopard introduced this feature, I bought it on release day. That didn’t fix it.

Later I thought if only I could take this device with me at all times, that would be it. iPhone was that device, I bought a 3GS and used it since. That didn’t fix it.

Lately I thought that it’s the writing vs. tapping on glass aspect that kills it for me. The tactile feeling of longhand. When I was presented with a nice pen from my manager at Facebook, I started using an analog notebook for things I actually work on. This sort of fixed it. But not really.

Analog notebooks suck. You can’t search, you can’t rearrange content, you can’t cross-link context, there is zero security involved. You can easily forget your notebook, write something on a piece of paper to get integrated later and then never do it. You can have your notebook but forget a pen (cue the “unable to speak” scene from The Matrix).

At the same time, this fixed quite a bit of my anxiety issues. It improved my “priority inversion” struggle. For a while I thought it really was the longhand. I started dreaming of an iPad Pro. And then one day I forgot to take my phone to work. I spent an entire day without the phone and I felt much better. Why? Suddenly, it hit me.

When you are consuming information, you are adding more things to your plate. It’s an “IN” process. Devices that let you easily go ahead and consume add to your existing burdens. Worse yet, they always have channels for others to add more to your plate without your consent. Instant messaging can easily add more work and worries to your waking hours. E-mail, task management systems where other people can open tasks for you, all this shit is directed “INTO” your mind. 5±2 worries at a time? Forget it. More like 52.

A notebook is an “OUT” device. Only you can let things out of you and record in it. It doesn’t have a builtin way to attack you with new chores, worries and information you need to tackle. It lets you direct stuff “OUT” of your mind.

“OUT” is a solution. “IN” is problems. Fundamentally, longhand is nice but it’s a secondary thing. Fundamentally, being able to search through your stuff under one second is nice but’s a secondary thing. The point is to stop letting the world put stuff on your plate without your consent.

What do I do with this epiphany? I am not sure. Sounds like a builtin modality to devices would be an awesome improvement. Like a default “airplane mode” but still backing things up and synchronizing your notes and reminders. One that could let you get notifications for new e-mails, Facebook posts, etc. in a guarded way, at specific points in time. An easier and more bulletproof solution for it would be to have a separate device that acts as your “OUT"-only notebook. One you’d deliberately choose to guard against anything that belongs to the “IN” mode.

I’m afraid though that in the end I’d end up with two IN/OUT devices.