Yesterday, I went to Staples to purchase 4x6 blue, lined index cards. Ever since graduate school, I have maintained my research notes and bibliography on index cards of various colors. Passages I might want to reference later, I write out (yes, by hand; no cutting and pasting) on white, lined cards. The bibliographic information for books goes onto yellow cards, for scholarly articles onto blue. When my research was in fuller swing, I had uses for purple and green cards, and for unlined white cards.
And it used to be that one could purchase 4x6 index cards in at least the following colors: white, yellow (canary, actually), blue, purple and green—any one of these colors in packages of 100 for a dollar-two-ninety-eight.
But no more. White are still available (though I have noticed that the stock is scarcely sturdier than paper; certainly nothing deserving the name of card stock). But all the standard colors are gone. If you want colored cards, you can get a package of five different kinds of cards, 20 of each, that have one neon color on one side of the card, and a different neon color on the other side of the card.
But I don’t want cards that are blazing blue on one side and phosphorescent purple on the other. I’m sure that’s XTREME and all, but I want cards that are blue. To match the other blue cards that I have.
Go away, old man. What are you going to ask for next, a quill pen?
But why do I want index cards at all? Heck, we now live in a world where one doesn’t even need a pen. Just write anything you want with your finger on the touch screen of your latest device and store it into perpetuity in the cloud. I bet someone could finalize a mortgage on his tablet, with nothing more than the God-given appendage he uses to test whether paint is dry or pick his nose. We live in a brave new world. Why not avail myself of some bibliographical database on my computer?
On the back of a blue bibliographic card I can write a summary of the article, or my reactions to the article, or how I want to use the article in my own writing. On the front of a yellow card, I can note the call number of the book, so that if I want to check it out again, I don’t have to look that back up. I can arrange stacks of cards in any order I want, rather than the alphabetical order that will surely be the default option in the computer program. I can group them by topic. Sort them into piles of read and unread, and put the most urgent ones on the top of the unread pile. When I put my quote cards in order, an essay sometimes practically writes itself.
You’ll tell me a computer can do all of that. There’ll be a “notes” section of the bibliographic template where I can write my notes, an “other” slot where I can record a call number, if that’s what I want. I can override the alphabetic default to sort by topic.
But I don’t want to have to figure out how to override a default in order to do something that I can do with zero effort with my cards.
And here’s something a tablet can’t do. While I’m reading a book, the card can serve as my bookmark.
There are real advantages to physical things. With a pen, if some nincompoop is nattering on about how great it is that we now live in a world where one doesn’t need a pen, I could stab that nincompoop. I want to see him fight back with the ergonomically rounded sides of his tablet.