Saturday, 19 March 2016

Analogue revolution: why is stationery so popular?

Over here in the UK, supermarket goliath Sainsbury's has announced it will be stocking vinyl records for the first times since the 1980s. The news comes off the back of a surge in demand for the antiquated format, largely from the Gen Y demographic who are after something more tangeable than a Spotify stream. 

It's not just analogue music that's seeing a revival: there's a trend in switching off and getting back to basics. It seems that we've reached peak digital. Sure, apps and software can be useful - even superior in some aspects - but if the immense success of New York-based Baron Fig is to be an indicator, stationery isn't sounding its death knell anytime soon. 

There's something satisfying about putting pen or pencil to paper, especially if the tools you're using are of high quality. While an online to-do list app can synch to the cloud and inject your homescreen with various push notifications, it can't be reprogrammed at a whim, or torn out and passed to a colleague, or receive a rewarding strike-through when the task is complete. It's not about usability most of the time - it's a bit more primal than that. A paper notebook has the weird trait of heightening your senses - the feel of the paper, the smell of the pencil cedar, the sound of the thump it makes when it hits the desk. 

 "It's not about usability most of the time - it's a bit more primal than that"

You can't be immortalised in a digital note. Not really. Some day a server will crumble into the cyber wasteland or a device will become obsolete. Meanwhile dust-nosed archaeologists are dredging up the illuminated tomes of long dead monks from Wiltshire fields and discovering just what the abbot was up to that day. 

Stationery is deeply personal. My Word document may use different fonts or colours than yours, but it's just as clinical. With a notebook and pen, I get the infinite choice of combinations of the two, and that's without getting onto the subject of ink and crafty embellishments you might bring to the table. Currently I'm making notes with a Lamy Al-Star rollerball (in purple) and a lined Field Notes New York County Fair edition, while it's highly unlikely you're using the same combination. 

I love digital tools like Evernote. I use it on a daily basis for work. But I'm never more satisfied than when I'm scratching some notes into a favourite Rhodia or sketching on a pad. 

Have we reached peak digital? Maybe, but even if technology makes stationery all but obsolete, I guarantee that we will still crave a physical writing tool over anything else.