Hipster PDA: Getting mileage from index cards

The classic Hipster PDA (center) is flanked by a miniature version made from half-sized index cards and magnetic money clip, and the author's unit.
The classic Hipster PDA (center) is flanked by a miniature version made from half-sized index cards and magnetic money clip, and the author's unit.

It's right up there with the pet rock and the Incredible Weather String, except the Hipster PDA (Parietal Disgorgement Aid) actually serves a useful function.

Extremely functional, in fact. I'm losst without mine, as it replaces note pad, pocket calendar, todo list, and Palm device. I could suggest it replaces my brains on some days, but let's not go there.

Merlin Mann, creator of the 43 Folders productivity site, gets a lot of mileage from a bundle of index cards held together with a binder clip. In its purest form, that's all the Hipster PDA is.

It's simple enough to assemble: 1) Grab some index cards and 2) Clip them together with the binder clip. That's it. As Mann puts it in his website, there is no Step 3.

It's a whole lot fancier than the old Redneck PDA (see photo), and it's easier to share information with someone (i.e. give him an index card, which is easier than chopping off your hand). And unlike the old PDA (or smartphones, which picked up where the PDA technology left off) you don't have to worry about batteries, system crashes, or the usual electonics catastrophes.


My PDA days

My old Sony Clie went many miles with me, and we shared a lot of adventures. I've sat on this Clie numerous times, spilled coffee on it more than once, dropped it in parking lots, exposed it to the elements and disassembled it. It's crashed on me several times, and at one point refused to power back up until I took it apart and bridged out the contacts with a coin. That PDA took a lot of abuse.

Besides the plethora of games and ebooks, that PDA became a portable text machine. Plug a foldout keybard into the port, open the notepad function, and type away. Many of my earliest blogs were composed on that PDA, flimsy keyboard and all.


A Hipster PDA, ready for assembly. No engineering degree required.
A Hipster PDA, ready for assembly. No engineering degree required.

Going unplugged

That PDA is now obsolete and hasn't been powered up in years. If I charged it up now, there's no guarantee it wouldn't explode. Shoot, it's more than 10 years old; electronics are not supposed to last that long.

Stuck for answers on how to meet my portable note-taking needs, I ran across Mann's site. Cool idea, I thought. Would it work?

Let's check this out and assemble one, OK? No tools required here. Parts list:

  • Index cards -- 44 cents for a pack of 100 at Walmart.
  • Binder clips -- About a buck for a pack of them.
  • Pen -- Free, of course. Your car insurance man probably gave you one.

Cheap is good. What else?


Goin' to the roots: The Redneck PDA may well be the forerunner of the Hipster PDA. Beaming data to another user may be problematic, though.
Goin' to the roots: The Redneck PDA may well be the forerunner of the Hipster PDA. Beaming data to another user may be problematic, though.

Customizing the Hipster

Once you build your Hipster PDA per specs, you can do all kinds of things to modify it.

Heavy use makes some sort of cover essential. The simplest would be to takie a sheet of plastic -- perhaps an old plastic file folder, cut out two index-card-sized pieces, and clip them into place. You may want to consider rounding off the corners some so they won't stick you.

My go-to cover is an Oxford eelskin index card holder, which cost me less than a five-spot at Office Depot. It comes with two pockets and a slot to hold the index cards you're writing on. If you want to go real fancy, the Levenger Pocket Briefcase takes your Hipster PDA to Executive Row. Other users take Mokeskiin items and modify them; a search online will uncover a number of hacks. Some other cover ideas are shown in this article; take a look.

I fill my Hipster PDA with unlined index cards and a few quadrille-ruled cards, but again you can go geeky with all sorts of templates. A Web search will reveal premade schedules, calendars, GTD (Getting Things Done) tools, and just about any purpose you can come up with.

For my own purposes, one card per day is used for my agenda, with a schedule and goals/to-do list on one side and an editorial calendar on the other. After that, I use index cards for everything -- story outlines, drafts, interviews, shopping lists. But that's how I use mine; you can work your Hipster PDA any way that serves you best. About the only thing I'd suggest here is to limit one subject or task per card. It's easier to compartmentalize and organize stuff that way.


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