Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard the phrase that is the title of this post used as a badge of honor. I’ve also heard it said this way: “There’s nothing we do with paper and pencil.” Folks have sworn that they never use, would never use, or would never have students use, pen and paper to further their learning, as if pen and paper were cancer-causing or habit forming.1 What’s creepy is watching other people nod their heads and smile when a speaker says that. Those folks should challenge the speaker. Sometimes, we’re just entirely too polite.
The last time I heard this phrase and saw the head nod/smile response was during the Champions for Change event. My notes are below. My, ahem, paper notes. I hope the video of the conversation is posted soon.
Too many proponents of digital tools get stuck in the false either/or dichotomy that suggests that we must abandon paper to embrace the digital. That’s silly. Paper is good for lots of things. Scribbling on a tablet isn’t yet the best way to get thoughts down in a hurry. Paper is easily sharable and postable in ways that notes on a tablet or laptop aren’t.
And anyway, the important piece of tool selection is picking the right tool for the right job. That it’s digital or analog really doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that you are making something.2
I never leave my house without a notebook, or, more and more, a tablet computer. But if I’m only taking one, I’m taking the notebook. It’s where I scribble and wonder and draft and note-take. When I’m using a pen to do so.
I wouldn’t even mention this troubling phrase except that I’ve met many teachers turned off by digital things precisely because the people touting them say things like “I never use a pen and paper.” That phrase rubs lots of people, pen and paper-loving people, the wrong way. There’s an implied sense that they have to give up what works in order to embrace digital tools. That’s just wrong.
To those teachers, I’d say don’t drop anything that’s working for you, and don’t be too quick to pick up anything new unless you see that it might have some value. Us geeks get into our technologies sometimes, but that doesn’t make us right.
To the rest of us – let’s use better language, particularly if we’re trying to encourage better habits in others and ourselves. As my school district is beginning our work with our iPad 1:1, I’ve been encouraging people to think about going “paperless.” My team realized quickly that “paperless” isn’t what we’re after. We’re after folks choosing the best tool in a bigger toolbox for the job they’re trying to get done. So instead of “paperless,” we’re starting to say “digital friendly.” It’s not yet the right phrase, but it is an attempt to break our use of language that characterizes paper as a bad thing.
How, I wonder, does the language you use get in the way of the thing you’re trying to accomplish? Let me know in the comments.