It’s interesting how things swing back and forth: fads, trends, convictions, loyalties. No, I’m not talking about politics — despite the changeability of its practitioners, that’s one thing that seems to remain relatively stable amongst the majority of us hoi polloi. (I made a major change back in the early ’80s, but that was mostly just when I really started to think for myself instead of listening to other people.)

No, what I’m talking about is gadgets. For a couple of decades — from the early ’90s onward, all the office geeks* were hung up on PDAs. There were major debates about operating systems, models (Palm, Zaurus, Windows CE, et. al.) and much virtual blood was shed on innumerable bulletin boards, listservs, and the early blogs over the vital statistics of each geek’s fave mistress of the moment.

Then smart phones appeared, and the RIM v. Nokia v. Palm and so forth began. The BlackBerry was (and still appears to be) on top, and then the iPhone came along and changed the stakes. Who knows where that will end up, now that Google has entered the game?

But a small group of us have been drifting away from the PDA, either partially or completely, gravitating back to the original digitally-manipulated data system: pencil (or pen) and paper. This schism has created a new class of obsessive that I refer to as the Notegeek, and a large subclass known as the MolePeople, or Molegeeks.

We are the notebook people. We are those who have come to understand that paper is portable, lightweight, versatile and oddly satisfying to make marks on. Yes, it can be erased… but not easily. With a bit of organization the marks can be ordered and reasonably reviewable. They are durable — far more so than flash memory or even optical storage — inexpensive, and when they run out of memory you simply replace the whole system for a few bucks and you’re up and running again. The ink’s a lot cheaper, too.

Digitally-Manipulated Personal Information Manager
Digitally-Manipulated Personal Information Managers

With the proper choice of materials, notebooks are also a good deal more weatherproof than the average mini-computer. They get wet, they dry out. You spill your latte, you live with the stains. (Some folks even call that “character.”) You drop it in the sand at the beach, or someone drips all over it, no problem about the salt water — more character. And so on. Backing them up is time-consuming — but rarely really necessary — and although they can be lost, same as a PDA, people rarely steal them (except, perhaps, for divorce lawyers, who are also hell on hard drives and email accounts).

Notegeeks and MolePeople (among whom I count myself) understand the truth about notes: that they rarely serve any purpose over long periods, and that it really doesn’t matter if they’re readily to hand once their purpose has been served. We find that our notebooks, especially our beloved Moleskines, are always ready, require no batteries, and allow us to record information far more whimiscally than can be accomplished by text alone. Since we have our phones for communication and photographs, we are well-equipped and (it seems to me) far less harried than the average guy wrestling with his Crackberry. We also find it easier to take notes on the phone, since we feel no need to hold the notebooks to our ears.

Versatile. Cheap. Satisfying. Aesthetically pleasing. Customizable. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Who needs an iPhone? I’ve got my Moleskine. Of course, all you Chipgeeks will disagree, but then that’s what makes a geek geeky — that conviction that perfection is just around the corner and she’s hot on its trail.

And you get to buy all those cool pens, too, and those neat little pencils with caps that have sharpeners built in, and…

*I use “geek” in the sense of anyone with a preoccupation verging on the abnormal, not in reference to specifics like programmers and people who bite the heads off chickens (the original meaning).