David Bouchier: Organizing The Future

Dec 28, 2020

It won’t be a Happy New Year on Friday unless we have provided ourselves with one essential life-enhancing item: an appointment book.

Some people call them agenda books, or diaries, but I don’t have an agenda and gave up keeping a diary years ago when I realized that everything was repetition. I favor a particular brand of appointment book with rather beautiful covers, because I expect to use it every day for 365 days. It is designed in Britain, distributed in Canada, and of course made in China. The size, five by seven inches, is just right — not so small as to reduce my life to insignificance and not so huge as to suggest an excess of self-esteem, and 12 months seems a reasonable period of time to anticipate, encompassing four seasons, one birthday, and 52 garbage collections on Tuesdays. A whole year may be rather too optimistic, given the way things are going, but they don’t sell six-month or three-month versions.

Simply buying an appointment book made out of paper marks me as hopelessly out of date, a living memorial to Johannes Gutenberg. Most people these days prefer to entrust their futures to tiny plastic gadgets, also made in China, which will keep all their plans and notes safe, unless and until the thing stops working, or the batteries run out, and their future vanishes. I was shown one such expensive device that allowed the user to actually write on the screen, just as if it was a piece of paper. Paper was invented by the Chinese 2,000 ago. The wonders of progress never cease to amaze me.

The advantage of a plain paper appointment book, apart from simplicity and cheapness, is that it is a visible, tangible token of optimism about the coming year. Appointment books, unlike diaries, record the future not the past. They tell the story of your life before it happens. If you have a whole year of dates waiting to be filled in then you might as well get busy and fill them in, so that your year is laid out in a very reassuring manner, like a rather dull novel with no surprises. You can even indulge in a bit of pre-emptive nostalgia by looking at things like vacation dates and other eagerly anticipated events like retirements and hip replacements. It’s not exactly a guarantee, but a conditional promise that good things will happen or, at the very least, that something will happen. The future becomes more real when we write it down with dates and times attached. Indeed there are occasions when the future seems more real than the present, and infinitely more real than the past.

An appointment book is and must be somewhat provisional. We can’t pretend to know what will happen in the wider world in 2021, any more than we knew what was coming in January 2020. I had to make several changes in my planned schedule back then, and perhaps you did, too. For all we know, in 2021, a trade war with China may cut off our supply of little electronic gadgets, and perhaps even our supply of paper appointment books. Then nobody will know what they are supposed to do or where they are supposed to be from one day to the next. But it’s too late to worry about that. I already have the year 2021 fully organized in my new appointment book. What could possibly go wrong?

Copyright: David Bouchier