A Look At Life: Paper Chase

9th May 2014

Paper Chase

Clare Finney

“You can't cancel!” shrills the voice on the phone. “It’s in the diary. That’s final!” Though I’m hardly a model of reliability, it is my friend who flakes on our arrangements most, and I’m offended by the implication of her words. What does she mean ‘I can’t cancel’? Why does she care suddenly?

“I have a paper diary now,” she confesses, “and if you rearrange it will make that page a real mess.” Being a paper girl myself, I understand her distress: scores, scribbles and red arrows to new times and dates are an occupational hazard for us non-digital diarists, but they never cease to be tiresome. Nevertheless, what caught my attention about my formerly technophile friend’s approach is how much more she invested in these dates now that she was writing them down.

Once upon a time she’d postpone or cancel without a thought; now she felt committed to whatever time, date and place her Moleskine diary dictated. Intrigued, I probed further. Was she really more diligent about a paper date?

“With my iPhone I just swiped to rearrange,” she said. “Now it’s obvious. It makes me look disorganised.” Ah, the agonies of self-consciousness. Now her life is un-swipeable, she realises. Yet at the risk of falling painfully off my high horse, let me explain.

Four years ago, when I had my first bite of the Apple, discovered Heaven was an iCloud, and the iPhone a direct line to God (I mean the Internet), I too used the Diary app. I delighted over the different colours for deadlines, home, work and so on; set reminders in different ring tones, and swiped like a DJ on a record set – until the phone itself was swiped. Had a plain, personal diary, with a promise of reward upon its safe return, been stolen, then chances of finding it would have been substantial; as it was, I’d lost a neat mini computer that any thief could wipe clean. Three embarrassing weeks of missed meetings later, I’d bought a Moleskine.

Yet although my experience, which took place long before my iFatuation had time to really sink in, was hardly an epiphany, my subsequent insights into the perceived worth of paper have been positively Damascene.

Take, for example, the humble birthday card: now an arrival so rare, you’re minded to frame it. Its substitute, the e-card or, worse still, the Facebook post, pales in comparison to such a tangible manifestation of affection and regard. Facebook, lest we forget, reminds us about birthdays. It takes two seconds or less to click on the name that appears like a banner advert and type a quick message – and if there’s more than one name, you can copy and paste it. But a well-chosen card, bought, handwritten and posted in time to arrive on your birthday? That’s love, dear reader, and judging by the increase in sales recently, I’m not the only one keeping it real.

In 2013, the British public spent £1.37 billion on cards – more than on tea and coffee together. Though Clinton Cards has sadly folded, chains such as Scribbler and Paperchase have thrived in recent times and the practice of making cards was named the most popular hobby last year. It’s not a huge surprise – after all, we love to hate the web as much as we love it – yet what intrigues me most of all is how uniquely British this tendency to fly in the face of convenience and economic logic is.

Excluding the Americans, who, I’ve heard, send cards to congratulate friends on getting up in the morning, the only country to feel so strongly about card sending, and stationery in general, is Britain. As well as supporting around 800 publishers of the things, we are the birthplace of some of the world’s oldest, most preeminent stationers, and a goldmine for Moleskine, the fancy Italian notebook company that does better here than it does in its country of origin.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia; perhaps it is just another example of our national need to rebel, albeit in politely, passively, against the status quo: in this case, attacking the internet with a notebook. Perhaps it’s simply the visceral appeal of a clean sheet of paper and a good pen. I’ve heard numerous reasons from paper addicts of various creeds and ink colours, but on one point they are unanimous…

In this transitory age of swipe, click and control-alt-delete, the permanence of pen on paper will always win out.

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