by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It began with my pockets.

My pockets were always stuffed. My pockets bulged. The inside of my pockets looked like the bottom of an office trash basket. Small pieces of paper stuck to smaller pieces of paper. Receipts wrapped around notes folded into business cards — all crushed into a shapeless wad that engorged my left and right pant legs. It looked as if I traveled with tuna sandwiches in my jeans.

It was those bulges that led me to the dangerous world of palmtops, organizers and minicomputers. You know. Devices designed to make your life easier — and your pants pockets flatter. I wanted the smooth-pockets look. I wanted a trim profile. Mostly, I wanted to be able to read the notes I wrote to myself and shoved into my pockets which — after being balled up for the two or three weeks — were as decipherable as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So I went to the store. I made a purchase. The first little helpful device was called a Voice Organizer.

“Why worry about writing notes to yourself?” the salesman said. “Just speak into our small device, and listen back at your convenience.”

Simple, right? Until I realized that I often make my notes in public, in a press box or on an airplane, which is no big deal if you are writing something down but brings some pretty funny stares when you pull out your little black Voice Organizer, like some kind of CIA operative, and say, “Memo to self: Call toilet repairman.”

At first I tried whispering. Only when I played the message back, it sounded like an obscene phone call. Then I tried using it only in loud places, where my talking wouldn’t be noticed. The problem is those devices pick up every scrap of outside noise. So when I played back the message it sound like: “Memo tozzrtyp -elf, call uvEEEE anllyt!”

Also, it bulged in my pocket.

No answers from technology

I moved from the Voice Organizer to the Wizard. You know the Wizard. It is a
“personal organizer” designed to hold “all of your phone numbers, addresses, schedules and expense accounts.”

The problem is, you have to enter all of your phone numbers, addresses, schedules and expense accounts. And the buttons are the size of a tick.

By the time I did that (roughly, oh, a year and a half), many of the phone numbers had changed, as had the addresses, my schedule and the time limit on my expense account. Also you couldn’t write notes. And I have to write notes. How else would I know to call the toilet repairman?

So I moved to a Newton. Do you know Newton? Not the guy who discovered gravity. All he had to do was sit under a tree. I bet he didn’t even have pockets.

No, this Newton was from Apple, was about seven inches, and was designed to translate your handwriting into computer type. You wrote on the electronic notepad with an electronic pencil, and poof! The Newton spat it back in legible letters.

The problem was, their letters were not the same as my letters. If, for example, a tree fell in the yard, and I scribbled, “must call someone about fallen tree,” it spit back “mist can sometimes eat boot fifth tee.”

No thanks. I’m confused enough.

Also, a Newton couldn’t fit in my pants — or Hulk Hogan’s pants, for that matter.

Did I mention the REX?

Nothing beats the pen

The REX is the latest organization device on the market. I came to it after two more Wizards, a newer edition of Newton, a hand-held scanner, several failed voice gizmos and a brief attempt at writing things down on sticky notes and pressing them on different parts of my legs. (I looked like one of those things at a coffee shop, where the waitress puts the orders and spins them for the cook.)

The REX was supposed to change all that. It is truly slim, the size of a credit card. You type all the information in a real computer (“real” meaning
“human-sized” as opposed to “insect-sized”) and then you download it quickly into the REX.

With the REX, my pockets were slim. I had no VBL (Visible Bulge Line). And when I needed a number, I simply pulled out the REX, pressed a button and — the screen was smashed.

I’m not kidding. Smashed. Gooey. I must have bumped into something. Maybe the tree in the backyard.

Anyhow, I am back to pen and paper, writing down messages, folding them up, shoving them in my pockets and forgetting about them forever. It may not be the most technological approach, but it doesn’t make me talk aloud and doesn’t remind me that I never learned how to write legibly.

Of course, I still have the bulges in my pockets. But I can live with that. Every now and then, I even pull out something interesting that I’ve forgotten about.

Like a tuna sandwich.

Mitch Albom will sign “Tuesdays With Morrie” 7-8 p.m. Wednesday at Barnes & Noble in Troy and 7:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Borders in Dearborn. To leave a message for him, call 1-313-223-4581.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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