Do we need dedicated, complete online backups anymore, considering Dropbox, iCloud, and Google? A few years ago, I would have said absolutely yes – we need complete, offsite backups of our hard drives so that, if something terrible happens to your machine, you don’t lose vital things such as photos, purchased music, files, and contacts.

But much has changed. With music streaming, photos stored in the cloud, and files online, I’m not so sure that is as absolute as it used to be. Mobile devices and SSD drives have led a move to online storage and synchronization that is simply amazing. To have all your photos online, reachable and editable, is staggering. What would you lose, if you lost your device? If you are using online services, probably less than your think. (The hardest challenge is still home movies and ripped DVD files, due to the size of the files – these are the files that should absolutely be stored offsite as well as on local backups.)

I’m not saying you don’t need to backup anymore. You should still have good quality backups, through Time Machine or another system. I also have cloned drive that gets updated weekly, and I use Arq Agent to also backup online. But with files in the cloud, and cloud sync being pretty stable these days, the issue of offsite storage has changed.

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AuthorKevin Taylor

In an age of cloud data, with online calendars and sophisticated task managers, is there a place for an analog system? I loved my old Day Planner back in the 1990s, but it was a chore to update. Then the Palm Pilot came along, with its digital calendar and contact list, and it was an obvious improvement in every way (even though you had to sync it with a cable). Now I’ve got an online calendar that’s shared with my family, and a digital project manager that can schedule repeating tasks. Why would anyone ever go backwards to a printed, analog system? What has been lost with these technological advances?

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One thing we have lost with these digital systems of to-dos, reminders, events, and contacts is, as Michael Hyatt notes, visibility. With these separate applications and data it’s very easy to preserve endless ideas and notes, but then never re-visit them. Things are tucked away in various programs, files, and systems. We can’t get a bird’s eye view of everything without a bit of juggling between applications, and we don’t remember things because a digital, metaphorical cut and paste is simply not as memorable as physical, handwritten notes. We have lose a certain awareness that comes from the tactile experience of writing; we learn better when we physically write on paper, instead of the experience of virtual typing.

I’ve been experimenting with Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner, which is a unique take on a planner, personal diary, notebook, and calendar. It incorporates ideas from his Free to Focus system, which is a guided approach to goal-setting. The Full Focus Planner keeps your goals visibly in front of you as you consider your day, week, and month. There’s something reassuring about a physical book, scribbling, and marking off that is simply not replicated in a digital system. A real book mirrors our lives, with its boundaries and limits, instead of the limitless storage of the internet. One of my favorite elements is, in the daily pages where you enter your day’s appointments and goals, there is a whole blank page for notes – you can jot down numbers, ideas, concerns – it’s like having a blank notebook open at all times, beside your calendar and goals, and each page of notes is tangibly connected to that day. Additionally, I do find that reviewing the week and my goals is a more serious exercise with pen and paper; when it’s all electronic, it’s much too easy to zip through it. (The digital life is, by style and definition, a hurried thing, always seeking the fastest way out, but the analog life shapes and demands our slow attention. This is a recommended book on this topic, which I haven’t read. Yet.)

That said, there are obvious downfalls to a physical calendar-planner. It can be left at work, or worst, lost (digital systems sync and backup the data, which is clearly superior). It can get messy with revisions and changes – marking through calendar changes, erasing things, and so on. Moreover, you can’t powerfully search, sort and track things with a printed book, and i feels a bit old school to have to consult a book. Errors can abound, either in entering or reviewing (also, I tend to quickly jot something that I don’t remember later – what does this acronym mean, I wonder?) In this day and age, some sort of hybrid system works best, something that marries the digital power of project planning and an online calendar, with the analog power of written goals and notes for the day (this is actually Hyatt’s recommendation, and personal practice).

I’m only in my second week of using the Full Focus Planner, and as a mildly tormented productivity addict I’m still in the “new car” phase. It’s fun, it’s different, and I’ll have to see where I am in two months. There is a tactile joy in it all: in entering things and marking them off, writing in calendar events and seeing the edges of a day, having important goals front and center, and having lots of notetaking space for each day. There are some frustrations, though. I do have to re-train myself to check my to-do app, calendar app, and now the Full Focus Planner (so 3 things to juggle). With the Full Focus Planner, I do have to carry something nearly four times the dimensions and weight of my iPhone but none of the computing and GPS intelligence. Yet I do see great rewards with the Full Focus Planner, and I’m enjoying the experiment. We must remember that, in a digital age, there is a peculiar power in the analog.

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AuthorKevin Taylor

Google, Wikipedia, and the internet are so great for learning – it’s an external brain, a vast repository of knowledge. For dates, Latin phrases, names, movements, and so on, the internet is astounding. I remember being an undergraduate student struggling to read Barth’s theology and its many terms and Latin phrases, and being so lost. The internet would have provided such a resource for me! Alas, it had not been invented yet.

The great temptation of the internet, though, is to use it as a substitute for our thinking. I see this in so many places – in student writing, public school curriculum nights, and people’s general attitudes. Knowledge has become more of a resourcing than a comprehending and communicating. Public school teachers give us website resources (that then mine us for data). Sunday School teachers show clips from the internet. Students turn to the internet for help in writing papers (we did a version of this, when we as students started a paper with a quote from the dictionary or the encyclopedia, but those resources were much more limited!). While the internet as a resource is not wrong, it is wrong when it substitutes and overwhelms our own thinking and expression. It’s wrong to just use the internet because we are lazy.

The trick is, when are we overusing the internet? That’s a hard line to define, as with many things. It’s why it comes down to taste, which is not just personal taste but a common understanding. We have to develop a good palate for the internet, for its judicious use and quotation. There’s a point where it overwhelms us, just as there is a point where the icing overwhelms the cake. It’s about balance, and education is partly about learning that balance, to have that proper sense of taste. When we are using the internet’s knowledge as a substitute – when we are cribbing from it – then we have gone too far.

Posted
AuthorKevin Taylor

Scrivener and Ulysses are examples of writing applications that are very different from your usual text editors such as Microsoft Word. They do not stress layout, tables, or other word processor power elements; instead, they focus on text that can be outputted in various ways, depending on your needs.

Scrivener and Ulysses are really something like massive writing apps. They allow you to create projects with multiple sub-documents and, in the case of Scrivener, various file types as research. This is useful if you are creating a book, novel, class, series of lectures, and so on. Everything can be in one place, easily editable, instead of switching between various files and folders.

You can sort of get this effect with folders, but it’s not nearly as fluid or simple. If you use a folder and want to move a section from one chapter to another, for example, you would have to carefully work with 2 documents, switching between them. (Scrivener has a really handy “append” feature for this, by the way.) It’s hard to see the various sections in relation to one another, because Word is oriented around the single document structure. It doesn’t work well with a large document with many sections that require constant navigation.

You could also use Evernote or a similar app that allows for multiple sub-documents, but it’s not a great writing environment for polished material. It doesn’t have pagination and footnotes, for example.

Scrivener and Ulysses are so interesting because they are a genuinely different way of writing, as they consider the scope of the project from the outset, and allow for the creation of these sections of material, such as chapters or sessions.

The raw power of Scrivener and Ulysses to hold lots of sub-documents is part of the challenge to using them. It’s very easy to throw lots of ideas into them, and pretty soon the project is unmanageable. Speaking from experience, this is a terrible temptation and problem. Like a good to-do manager, you should keep the project as lean as possible; just because you can add nearly infinite amounts of data does not mean you should. Be circumspect with your ideas and notes, or be prepared for several days of cleaning up.

Posted
AuthorKevin Taylor