Fountain Pens · Stationery · Writing

One advantage of pen and paper

Never break down

There are numerous articles on the internet written by fans of pen and paper (see below for some of my favourite blogs/sites) and almost all will at some point make a comparison between the analogue and digital platforms. This will inevitably include a trope which goes along the lines of “… Unlike your mobile device, pens and paper never run out of battery.”  I am always a little annoyed by this – a device usually runs out of battery because the owner is either not recharging it regularly (perhaps they are stuck in the 1990s and think the battery has to be run down completely before recharging) or they are not in command of their usage (if they know they are a heavy user, they can carry a mobile battery charger, for example). It also ignores the fact that you can just as easily run out of ink, or come to the end of your notebook if you are the type of person who doesn’t plan ahead.

However, I have an observation of my own to make, and it goes like this:

I have never yet received a phone call from a scammer alleging that they are telephoning me from Parker Pens and they have “information” that my pen is not working properly and to avoid untold terrible things happening, I should hand over my pen to them immediately.

In this one way, the old pen and paper does indeed trump the new technology, to the extent that I think I will tell the next scammer who calls that previous phone conversations have convinced me that computers are deeply unsafe and I have therefore sold mine and replaced it with a typewriter. Actually, this is not as far-fetched as it sounds – our local charity shop has three typewriters currently for sale and I am having to sit on my hands to prevent me spending money I don’t have on one then trying to find space I don’t have to put it in!

Some of my favourite paper-centric sites are:-

Stationery Wednesday – the blog from Bureau Direct, online stationery shop based in the UK

Endpaper – the blog from Paperblanks, manufacturers of very decorative journals and diaries.

Filofax – blog from Filofax, almost everyone knows Filofax, right?

Goulet Pens – an American online fountain pen and paper retailer, Brian Goulet is a prolific producer of quality information about this niche arena.

Philofaxy – the daddy of all the paper planner blogs, chock-full of information going back to pre-history when planners were all-but dead and buried.

The Writing Desk – okay, they don’t have a blog, but they do have an online shop plus a bricks and mortar store in Bury St Edmunds, UK. Mainly, though, they are my ‘local’ fountain pen specialist and for that reason alone they get to be mentioned here.

William Hannah Daily – William Hannah is a small UK business manufacturing and selling very desirable leather disc-system notebooks and refills. David Round has been posting a daily photo on Instagram for many months, each featuring a brief hand-written entry and featuring a variety of the leather products of his company. Now these are also being featured in their own section on the company website, and you can even subscribe to receive them in your inbox if you choose. There is a blog on the same site, but it has been dormant for a little while.

Wonderpens – this blog, written by the lady who runs a couple of stationery shops in California, is just delightful.

Fountain Pen Follies – another great blog specifically about fountain pens. If you only read one thing, read her recent “Happy December” post because it is lovely and amusing.


4 thoughts on “One advantage of pen and paper

  1. Oh, thank you.That is such a kind thing to say.

    I agree that the battery running down isn’t really a thing, but I have had computers and phones simply crash or die on me, which isn’t such a problem with pen and paper, because one can always just grab another. 🙂 In contrast, I am now waiting for Apple to ship me a new laptop, and I’m hoping that my current laptop doesn’t die in the intervening three weeks; and the cellphone I’m hoping to eke out till the summer is also pretty much trash, because those things really only perform well for a year or two. And don’t get me started on the cost… That technology cycle is frustrating.

    But here’s a question: how would you rank the various communication methods, old and new? Looking at convenience, ease of use, time saved and pleasure/inchoate benefits, I’d have to admit that for me I’d still rank them as follows: computer and phone (word processing, text and email) > writing by hand > typewriters.

    I was a kid when computers became a thing, and I really found it so much better to word-process than to either hand-write and then have to re-type, or to compose directly at the typewriter. I remember though some of the old-timers I knew in journalism and law preferred to dictate — which I could never do. I’m a person who likes to see her work and revise it, and who is always fiddling with and re-doing words and sentences, and sometimes the whole piece, rather than unspooling my work perfectly on the first try. I do think I write differently when I write by hand versus on a computer, But mostly I choose between the two based on convenience: I find writing on a computer easier for lengthy works, and handwriting easier and better for shorter things like lists, letters and notes of meetings, conversations or classes). And I use my phone constantly, for communicating and also as a super-notebook, recipe box, entertainment device, Kindle, news delivery device, time-wasting device, and so on.

    Sorry! This is totally off topic, I think? But it’s where my mind went reading this excellent piece. 🙂

    1. Hi, Laura, thank you for giving such detailed and thought-provoking feedback; the points you make have really given me food for thought. I’ll say straight off that I think in the current day and age, computers and mobile devices are essential; they are no longer a luxury – and that in itself is a problem. Like their precursor, the telephone, computing devices both simplify and complicate our lives. When I started my working life, it was manual typewriters and, working in a bank, we had a ‘dumb terminal’ linked to the bank’s central computer. This was ‘updated’ regularly by running a length of punchcard through it! So I have seen the technological revolution pretty much unfold before me and the one observation I would make is that working in an office in 2018 is a lot harder than working in an office in 1976. I don’t know why that should be, but work environments aren’t as nice as they used to be, and people aren’t as nice as they used to be.

      Your point about word processing versus typing is a really good one, particularly what you say about revisions. However, I wonder how much we constantly revise our word processed work because it is so easy to revise it compared to something we have written by hand or typed – and does that fuel our perfectionism and lead to never completing things because there is always more revision you can do? If I can use photos as an example, I will often try to edit a photo to improve some aspect of it, but I rarely like the results and often revert to the original. If there is something less than acceptable in the original, I would really be better off re-taking the photo than trying to improve it after the event. That is more than probably just me being lousy at photography and having a can’t-be-bothered attitude to editing, though. Dictation (separate from transcription) was indeed a skill and people had to be taught to do it correctly and not everyone did it well.

      Another thing that I think is contributory to how we best record and communicate information is whether we are personally inclined towards a ‘database’ mindset, or a ‘timeline’ mindset. This is something I have been pondering over recent weeks after reading lots about how different people store the information they gather. I am definitely a ‘timeline’ person – I like my computer files to be listed by when they were produced (I will often include the date in the title of a file) and I like a bound notebook where different random topics follow each other based on what I was thinking at a particular point in time. I can find my way back to things because I know pretty much where they came in the sequence. People who like to store knowledge in a ‘database’ fashion group similar things together and don’t really care when something was produced. They make sense of everything by having very strong ‘search’ facilities – tables of contents and indices if the data is on paper, for example. This ‘database’ tendency is how computers are designed and how they work best. In a note app, it doesn’t matter when the note was written, what matters is that you have sufficient key-words to locate it again easily. I use the Notes apps, but I struggle with them because they don’t really work the way my mind does, and usually apps ignore the date something was created, substituting the date it was most recently accessed, which to me looks like storing your information on quicksand.

      Finally, to answer your question on how I would rate the various communication methods, oh my, what a task! Worst of all is the telephone – I have always hated the telephone. I use my mobile phone mainly like a mini-tablet than as a phone. The fact that computers brought the ability to e-mail was a huge leap forward for me. Despite my misgivings, I am at heart a tech nerd and I love my computers and I love being connected to the world through them, so they are absolutely essential. I also love my fountain pens (some people love watches, or jewellery, but for me it is fountain pens all the way) and, in order to use them, good quality paper is a must. I do find that a written ‘planner/appointment diary/organiser’ is useful to me – I seem better able to stick to my tasks if I have them written down for a particular day. If I use the electronic diaries, I just ignore them, despite regular reminders pinging up. I also like to keep my diaries and look back through them at the minutiae of previous years which might not be important enough to make it into my journal. The typewriter is last on my list, too, because there is a limit to the things that it does best. However, there are some things that it does do better than any other device – typing labels being the top of the list. Printing a one-off address label from a computer is a ridiculously time-consuming job and every time I have to do it I wish I had a typewriter and could just bang an address in and be done! This is also true of filling in printed forms – although neither of these tasks is sufficient justification for owning a typewriter.

      To sum up, I think we are losing something through our digital obsession, but I don’t think we have yet quantified exactly what it is. Once again, thanks for your comment; I loved it.

  2. That is fascinating. I do think we must revise more as we write when it’s easier, like on a computer or other electronic screen. But when I write by hand, I revise as I go, too: it’s just that I scratch out, or draw arrows, and the like.

    I agree with you that all that revision may not lead to better writing, or even faster writing. Sometimes I get so bogged down because I don’t love, so keep revising, what I’ve written “so far” that I just put the piece aside rather than plowing through to finish it, then doing a global revision, which would probably be better.

    It’s probably both good and bad, like any technological change. Like the shift from horses to the internal combustion engine. 🙂

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