The Future Lies Ahead

Dec 30, 2013

It won’t be a Happy New Year on Wednesday 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 always buy the same kind of appointment book, not so small as to reduce my life to insignificance and not so huge as to suggest an excess of self-importance. Five by seven inches is about right, with seven days visible at a time. One week we can manage. The book I chose for 2014 is, as always, plain, brown, and ordinary, and is described by its manufacturers (no doubt ironically) as a "Self Management System." This makes me smile every time I look at it.

Simply buying an appointment book made out of paper marks me as hopelessly out of date, a living memorial to Johannes Gutenberg.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 lives to tiny plastic gadgets  made in China that will keep all their plans and notes safe, unless and until the thing stops working or the batteries run out.  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. 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. Then you can turn the pages and see your year laid out in a very satisfying manner, almost like a novel. 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 times when the future seems more real than the present, and infinitely more real than the past.

Some ancient civilizations got carried away by the possibility of planning ahead. The Mayans, for example, had a calendar that ran three thousand years into the future (and incidentally was supposed to end last year, but didn’t). Three thousand years is a bit too optimistic for me. One year is a nice comfortable period to anticipate, encompassing four seasons, one birthday, and fifty two garbage collection Tuesdays.

An appointment book is and should be absolutely personal. We can’t pretend to know what will happen in the wider world in 2014, any more than people in 1914 knew what would happen in July of that ominous year. For all we know a trade war with China may cut off our supply of little electronic gadgets, and the batteries to run them. So nobody will know what they are supposed to do, who they are supposed to call, or where they are supposed to be, from one day to the next. But I have my appointment book. I can live with that.

Copyright: David Bouchier