Why paper address books still exist

There’s been lots of research on whether computers actually decrease productivity/efficiency but I figure a little more anecdotal evidence never hurts. After struggling to get Ilyse’s new Treo to sync with her Mac Address Book, discovering that it required another $40 piece of third-party software, buying that and still not geting it to work correctly without dedicating a couple hours that I haven’t had time for, Ilyse and I had a conversation about whether her new smart phone was a smart purchase. She had been carrying around a Handspring and a phone for a while but when we upgraded the Mac OS it was no longer possible to sync the Handspring with her computer. So it seemed to make sense to get one device to replace two. In hindsight it probably would have made more sense for her to return to using a paper Filofax. The time spent moving data off the Handspring onto the computer and then from the computer to the Treo, parsing it for duplicates, was bad enough. On top of that add the time to make email work on the phone, to set it up to sync with the mail server and with mail on the Mac. Then there’s the time spent trying to figure out how to sync address books and calendars between Ilyse’s Mac and mine – another task that requires research into third party software and much trial and error. That’s a lot of time that could have been much better spent reading a book or watching a movie or playing a game.

At the same time Ilyse started using a Treo I started using a BlackBerry and also had trouble syncing it with my Mac’s address book and calendar. The first time I tried I wound up with a ton of duplicate entries in my calendar that took lots of time to delete.

I justify this time investment by the fact that I can instantly find any contact in my address book. Search is the critical time saver that makes it all worthwhile. But recently I’ve started encountering a problem in which search¬† doesn’t find things that I know are there. Thus began another investment of time researching whether others are encountering the same problem (they are, as reported¬† here and here and here) and whether there’s a solution. The suggested fix for this particular problem is to edit the entries that aren’t being found. But since I rely on search to tell me whether the entry is in my address book, that requires me to browse manually – just like I would do with a paper address book – whenever I search for something I think is there but search doesn’t find, then edit it (that is, pretend to make a change to it) so that it gets found next time.

It’s the attention these things require more than the absolute time they take that is of issue. If I have a paper address book and I search for an entry, it’s either there where it’s supposed to be or it’s not. I never have to wonder whether it’s there but I just can’t find it. I never have to think about whether it’s broken and I how I should fix it or what I should replace it with. And I certainly wouldn’t spend any time blogging about the problem. That’s time that could be better spent.

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