Analog tools and the clawing back of the tangible evidence of our labor

I was thinking yesterday about my growing preference for analog media over digital, and especially about how and why I have switched over almost entirely to using pen and paper for stuff like notes, planning, and to-do lists. Even at work, while I still send and receive a lot of email, use instant messaging pretty heavily, and rely on Trello boards for my team’s planning, all of my own meeting notes and daily/weekly planning takes place in a spiral-bound Kyokuto Expedient dot-grid notebook, and I am really happy with that process.

Part of it is that it allows me to indulge my penchant for fancy notebooks and fountain pens. However, I think the underlying reason that I prefer pen and paper for this sort of thing is that it helps make all of the intangible aspects “knowledge work” tangible.

That got me to thinking about Marx’s notion of our alienation from our own labor—the stuff we do to deliberately change the world around us, the essence of what makes us human. Knowledge work in general and digital/online tools more specifically abstract us even further from the work that we do. We spend all day composing emails, drafting documents, and dragging cards around on digital boards, and yet there is not a single physical trace of all that labor.

It is—by nature—dehumanizing.