As a reporter, I get to move around and meet lots of people. I hear so much stuff about AI, Machine Learning, Digital Oilfield, and The Paperless Office. When I hear about The Paperless Office, that is when I cringe. The reason why is because, as an engineer, I know that systems are designed for a certain purpose and result. For instance, you cannot use a centrifugal compressor to move natural gas, then turn around and use it to pump water. The design just does not work.
I am a very computer savvy guy. I have been working with them continuously since 1979. I use alternative operating systems that do not rely on Microsoft and program my own software for personal use; and sometimes for the office. Yet, I cannot read the works of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Plato, St. Augustan, Homer, nor Euripides on a computer screen.
When I read these great books, the literal meaning of the words are on the screen in black and white; but what about the unwritten meaning? That is what makes these books great. They often say one thing explicitly but implicitly mean the exact opposite. Very often, they will lead you for 800 pages in a line of thought, and then suddenly turn the tables on you and support the exact opposite of what they have been promoting all along.
I find that when I hold a book, my neck or back will start to hurt. No problem, I can shift my body position or shift the book position. Sometimes a concept will pop up on page 500 that was discussed on page 3, so what I do is put a slip of paper on page 500 and go to page three, put one finger on page 3, then go back to page 500. The process is very natural. You cannot do that with a computer screen. If you try, it just does not feel natural.
Many people disagree with me about relying on paper; however, I get great comfort from the book by Mark Bauerlein: “The Dumbest Generation”. At the heart of this book, I believe, is that the “screen” has created a class of people with short attention spans, no reasoning skills, and worst of all, narcissism – Facebook, MySpace, trivial YouTube videos, chat rooms, 24/7 gaming, etc.
When I was studying engineering in college, sometimes I would go to the school cafeteria and ask the manager if I could go to the blocked off section, when meals were not being served. Off in a quiet section of the building, I would lay out on the big dinning table, my practice exam, notes, textbook, reference book, calculator, notepad, pencil, highlighter, and eraser. At any moment, my eyes were scanning a different part of the table as I tried to put the pieces together. In order to connect the dots, I had to see all the dots at once from a bird’s eye view. You just cannot do that with a screen, not even multiple screens. The human body just was not designed to work that way.