Moving to Paper

By Caleb Keith


Two weeks ago I did something I would have protested against even last spring. I spent cold hard earned cash on a pen and some paper. And let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier. I have been jotting down quick thoughts, class notes, Greek charts, reading observations, and Bible verses. These are things my iPhone and Mac are fully capable of recording, yet I have never gone out of my way to take simple notes on any of my plethora of devices. After years of fighting paper, I have finally found the freedom it had always been offering.

The switch to paper wasn’t sudden. No, it started at the beginning of the summer when I began an intensive Latin course. Within two days of class, I became incredibly uncomfortable identifying, parsing, and translating on a screen. I needed to be able to make notes above and under a word crossing out and scribbling over mistakes, so I could learn what to change in the future. However, I still wasn’t a full believer in the magic of paper. It found a niche use in my life, but I didn’t want it to carry over into any other parts of my work. Some conversations with my dad, the Cantankerous Critic, and a C.S. Lewis Symposium changed that.


Towards the end of my summer, the Critic and I got caught up in a conversation about how amazing it was that Luther, and the other reformers, managed to write so much during their lives and careers. The Critic brought up the simple fact that they had no T.V., no Facebook, and no smartphones. The time that is currently occupied with constant entertainment and flashing lights would have been set to pressing issues, reading and writing, and perhaps the mastering of a skill or trade. The digital age has freed information, and in its place made us slaves to our attention spans. I was tired of being a slave but insisted that paper was not the solution; instead I would use willpower to block out the distractions.

Willpower was great until two days into my cause the fire under my ass had cooled, and I went back to my distracted ways. I was pushed once again by the Cantankerous Critic to drop the phone and pick up a pen while we were at a C.S. Lewis Symposium. There were several great points to take away from the four informative lectures, but the one that stuck with me the most was a comment about how much lower the expectations of students and scholars are now in comparison to the days of Lewis and the Inklings. I was taken aback! After all, look at the amazing “productivity” tools available now that didn’t exist during the time of these great men. My heart sank as I realized the very things that should empower me to be a great scholar have been holding me back this whole time.


Something had to change this time; I wasn’t just going to rely on my strength of mind to filter out the distractions. I decided on the small but simple change to carry around a pocket-sized notebook and a pen. I didn’t set any expectations for what I would write, only that I would carry my new tools around and write whatever I felt necessary or appropriate. By the end of the first day, I had found myself reaching for the notebook five times simply because it was more natural than my iPhone to write down a short thought. By the end of the first week I was hooked and I couldn’t believe how much more engaged I was in the task of working through my thoughts and ideas. What had I been doing fighting paper all this time?

I can’t promise everybody or anybody will be as moved as I am by adding a notebook and pen to their daily repertoire. What I can promise are clear thoughts that will come to completion start to finish without wondering what is happening on Facebook or what emoji your friend will send you. Clear thoughts have the ability to turn into reading, conversation, and brilliance. I want those ideas and conversations to be a regular part of my life, and I hope you do too. One note at a time I want to be pushed to think and produce like the minds of old, and screens just aren’t cutting it. I am not saying goodbye to technology. Instead, I am saying hello to paper and welcoming the new distraction-free moments into my life.