I had the pleasure of attending a recent Third Tuesday event where CBC Radio‘s Nora Young gave an eye opening presentation about her book, “The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering The World Around Us“.

I’ve chosen this book to be my summer read (personally autographed by the author!). It’s all about how we tend to share almost everything in our lives online these days. How all this seemingly mundane data— from how many push ups I did today to the photo I took of what I am about to eat— creates useful knowledge when gathered together. But this is only one of the many fascinating things Nora talks about in “The Virtual Self”.

I just finished reading chapter four on the use of digital tools tends to make us feel disconnected from our bodies. A return to working with our hands in “analogue” activities. This is something I can relate to.

As a cartoonist, I love drawing in my sketchbooks. I eagerly anticipated getting my hands on the iPad when it was released so I could paint without the mess of paint. Anywhere. No jars of water. No more getting paint on my clothes (or furniture).

I have eight fine art apps on my iPad but never ended up using them. Nora’s fourth chapter made me realize that there is a huge disconnect between my body and my art when I try to create on the iPad. I realized that I never ended up finishing a drawing.

It’s completely different when I use pencil and paper. I feel connected. I feel like I’m in the physical world. The way my brain and body were meant to interact.

I feel my hand moving across the paper. I worry about pressing too hard and breaking the oil pastel or lead on my pencil. When I make a mistake, I stop and pick up the eraser and mark up my hands as I brush away the errors.

There’s a nice feeling of satisfaction after I’ve completed my work. Despite being all smudgy and not so cleaned up. Welcome back spilled jars of water.

Case in point: on a recent flight to Florida where I shot a video podcast series, I decided to do some sketching (see video above). I asked my friend to shoot some video of me drawing as part of my series. It wasn’t until I read Nora’s chapter that I realized that I had went for the sketchbook instead of the apps on my iPad.

Could it have been because I wanted to film on the iPad? Well, no. I had my DSLR in my backpack in front of me. Could it be because I don’t like drawing with my finger or a thick stylus? I think so. I think it’s also because drawings in a sketchbook last a lot longer than digital drawings (unintended deletions, file formats aren’t future proof, implied invisibility). One thing for sure is it’s more than just my personal preference as a digital immigrant.

But what about when I create vector art?

This makes me think of context. I wonder if I approach cartooning from the traditional mindset? Sketchbook and pencil. Therefore, my brain expects a tactile experience. When I am about to start working on some vector art, I expect to be working with a computer. I expect to be working in edit mode. I expect to be interrupted by email and Twitter.

Vector art is clean and sterile. Traditional art is warm and tactile.

Going back to Nora’s book, after spending most of my day on my devices. For work, socializing, videos, audio, etc., it’s a relaxing and welcomed break in routine to go back to what I always did growing up. Working with my hands.