More efficient, less resilent? The fragility of new technology…

Not charging.

That is what my iPad tells me when I plug it in.  I nearly crapped myself.  As it’s power slowly decreased, I began to sweat…  would I lose all my data?  Would I no longer be able to use my iPad to avoid paper use?

Luckily, I did not lose my data, and after a couple weeks and taking it into the Apple Store Hospital for Sick iThings, I have determined its charging behaviour and have adapted.  Apple has also offered – without me asking – to replace the whole thing… I just need to make sure I have a copy of my data, and am waiting until I am done term to do the switch out.

As you know, I love my iPad. It enables me to efficiently and easily take notes.  Everything is on there and immediately accessible, but if everything is on there does that make it vulnerable as well? 

This experience has illustrated to me how relying on this new technology has made me  vulnerable to its failure, and how it can be less resilient than the older, legacy technology that is paper.  How many have an old, analog, mechanical tape deck that still works, but your CD player skips and you have replaced your mp3 player at least once because it just out and out failed?  I do.  It is the same with paper.

Going paperless has made me more efficient, but has it made me less resilient?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no.  In once sense, I am much more dependent.  I cannot take notes in class without my iPad, and so I need it to be with me at all times and I need it to have power.  If I have a long day of lectures and my iPad refuses to charge (as it does), I have been left in situations with a rapidly declining amount of power but much lecture/presentation to go.  Closest I came was finishing the day with about 3% battery left, and that took some power management to get to that.   If it had run out of battery just a few minutes earlier, I would have been left without the ability to take notes.  In this, paper is certainly superior, although you could conceivable run out of space in the notebook or the pen could die! However, it is much simpler to borrow some paper or a spare pen from your neighbour than to ask to borrow their spare iPad!!

On the other hand, I would say that I am more resilient to data loss than if I was using paper.  I have made sure to keep my notes backed up to the cloud, so that if my iPad dies, is stolen or is lost, I don’t lose all my notes.  On the other hand, if I was taking notes in a notebook and I lost it or my bag got stolen, there goes my notes for the term!  I can back up my whole set of notes in two clicks, while to back up my paper notes would be an annoying and somewhat tedious task.

The other interesting aspect of switching to new technology is the resiliency of the data form.  I visited the old library at Trinity Hall the other day.  It was fabulous, with books that pre-date the discovery of North America by Europeans, let alone the founding of my country.  And I can still read those books from hundreds of years ago, look at the maps drawn in the atlas of the day, see the strange way in which the island of Britain was thought to look.

Trinity Hall Old Library. Gorgeous, eh?

An old atlas, showing the conception of Britain at the time.

However, if on the other hand, I wanted to look at a document from even 10 years ago, it would be great struggle.  Most of my documents from then are saved on floppy discs, or possibly burnt on a CD.  Only my computer from about 8 years ago has a floppy disc drive, and only because I specifically sought out a computer that did at the time.  Only my aged current laptop has a CD drive – anything that I have bought in the last 5 years has had exclusively USB drives, and no CD drive.  My iPad has no external inputs… only via the web.  I would not be able to read the documents from 10 years ago digitally, but I could read my paper notes from that era with the same ease as the paper from 500 years ago.  Crazy.

So, with using exclusively digital technology, I will need to somehow ensure that I will be able to read these notes in the future, should I want the ability to do so.  I will be able to store them all in something the size of a matchbox (as opposed to a massive library!) but I am vulnerable to format changes and may not be able to read any of it 10, or even 5, years from now!

The joy of new technology:  trade efficiency for new vulnerabilities!

Be paperless,


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