It’s hard to describe how exciting it was to receive in the mail this morning: The Notebook by Roland Allen! 📚

The subtitle is excellent: A History of Thinking on Paper. This reminded me of Walter Ong’s claim about the decisive impact of writing, as a technology, upon the very shape of thought:

“Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness.” ― Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word

And of Niklas Luhmann’s more personal 1 version:

“It is impossible to think without writing; at least it is impossible in any sophisticated or networked (anschlußfähig) fashion." ― Communicating with Slip Boxes. An Empirical Account, 1992.

Index cards, that other excellent tool for thinking on paper, scarcely get a mention, overshadowed as they are here by notebooks. But at least the single mention is significant, since it concerns the research methods of Linnaeus:

”As he accumulated ever more data, he he moved on to index cards, which - unlike bound notebooks - allowed for an infinite number of new entries to be added to his catalogues.” (p. 244)

The cover of Roland Allen’s book, The Notebook. A History of Thinking on Paper. Beneath it lies the brown paper envelope it arrived in, and beside it sits the blue pair of scissors that opened the package.

  1. personal in that it shows Luhmann didn’t imagine a sophisticated non-literate culture, of which, nevertheless, there are many. I take it he was writing mainly about himself. ↩︎