Paper Trauma

An­drew Critch thinks peo­ple should be spend­ing more time than they cur­rently are us­ing pa­per as a work­ing mem­ory aid while think­ing, es­pe­cially large pa­per (for even more work­ing mem­ory). It is re­ally as­ton­ish­ing how helpful this can be. We con­sis­tently en­courage peo­ple to do it at CFAR work­shops nearly ev­ery time they learn a new tech­nique or at­tempt to de­bug them­selves or each other.

Paper is both very helpful and very easy to use—so why aren’t peo­ple already us­ing it all the time (in­clud­ing me)? I have a few vivid mem­o­ries of times at CFAR work­shops where I had to prod two peo­ple who were hav­ing a cog­ni­tively in­ten­sive con­ver­sa­tion to use pa­per as shared work­ing mem­ory, and by “peo­ple” I mean CFAR in­struc­tors. It’s harder than it looks.

My guess is that peo­ple have un­re­solved aver­sions to pa­per com­ing from school, where pa­per was how other peo­ple forced you to do things like home­work and tests.

Really, it’s hor­rify­ing to think about how much of what you’ve writ­ten down on pa­per was en­tirely forced on you.

So, you’ll need to do some work if you want to re­claim the right to write what­ever you want on pa­per, in­stead of what­ever you’ve been trained to write. Good luck. Here are some words to take with you on your way.

Just be­cause you are writ­ing on pa­per does not mean you are still in school.

No­body is go­ing to grade you.

This is not home­work. This is not a test.

This is your mind.

This is your life.

Think.