Saturday, January 19, 2013

Method Madness

Alexandra Samuel (B | T) recently wrote a blog for Harvard Business Review arguing that the only productive way to take notes is digitally. The opening line:
I knew right away, when you walked in here with a paper notebook — a paper notebook! — I realized that this meeting was not going to be a good use of our time.
The takeaway is that, according to Alexandra, if you use pen and paper to take notes during a meeting, you are a prehistoric, unproductive dumbass incapable of getting anything done.

The Comments were overwhelmingly negative. I didn't see outright flaming (maybe those were removed?), but I read plenty of comments that summed up my feeling about the article. Alexandra followed up with a post on her personal blog where she expresses how she's hurt by the negative feedback. Her mother tells her to let it go, what does she care about what a bunch of total strangers think about her.

And can we stop with the black/white, for/against, either/or absolute-ness of everything? Alexandra (bravely) joins in on the Comments to her HBR post, yet she refers to her detractors as "fountain pen devotees" and having "passionate reasons for paper." That's not what it is. Paper notes aren't better than digital notes, and digital notes aren't better than paper notes. The juxtaposition is wrongheaded. Judge people on their results, not on their note-taking method.

I've followed Alexandra for a while. She wrote an Atlantic piece a while back about balancing our digital stream and unplugging from distractions. Funny, it speaks to why I prefer taking notes (sometimes) with pen and paper. With pen and paper I don't have to fight a tool like auto-correct, which inarguably gets in my way more often than it helps.

But Alexandra is all-in on the realness of our digital lives, and she's not letting up. I don't know, I think she's trying too hard. You can want something to be real. But if it isn't, it isn't. I feel like she's trying to tell me not only that these digital relationships are real, but that they're enough.

The digital life is something. But there's more. There's face to face. And pen to paper.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Big Buzz


Big Data was easily the tech buzzword of 2012. Easy to write it off as a fad, but the chatter is setting the tone for the future of data analysis and development. For example, an InformationWeek article, 5 Big Data Predictions for 2013, almost offhandedly announces the demise of the data warehouse as we know it.

The end of the data warehouse? That sounds awfully premature, at least in my business. I'm in oil and gas, we don't have streams of unstructured data we're struggling to make sense of. Or do we? A data warehouse meets our needs adequately. Or does it?

Point is, I don't know for sure.

So I listen. I keep my ear to the ground. Data analysis and management are topics that interest me, so I pay attention to what others are saying about them. Maybe I pick up a tip that helps me today. Maybe I'll get introduced to a concept that defines the rest of my career. Or maybe I'll be prompted to ask a question about my organization's data that I wouldn't have thought to ask if I hadn't explored beyond the sphere of my current environment.

So buzz or not, I'm listening to the Big Data discussion. I don't want to be caught off guard in 10 years when the data warehouse I've known and understood my whole career finally goes extinct--and me and my career with it.