Commentary: In Praise of the Pen

By Marko Salopek, reporter

Every day our society becomes more deeply entrenched in a digital world. As we transition from paper to desktops, laptops, and pocketable super computers to record the visual representation of our language, our old analog friend the pen is being dismissed.

In a blow hastening the demise of this writing instrument, handwriting has been stricken from the Common Core State Standards adopted by most states. In its place is a new push to incorporate instruction on keyboarding by the third grade.

Even in our own institution, the increased use of laptops during class can be observed. This begs the question, what are we losing by embracing the keyboard?

According to research conducted by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, typing rather than hand writing notes utilizes different neural pathways. The result is that laptop users experience a reduction in comprehension and long-term retention of the course material.

I believe there is even more lost when shifting away from hand writing. It is a uniquely pure experience free of the distraction of battery life, power adapters, operating system updates, file format concerns, and the ever-prevalent access to the internet. It is just you, the pen, and a sheet of paper.

Then, there is the elegant simplicity of the writing instrument itself. It is just a tube filled with ink, capped by a metal tip, yet it has the ability to transmute the thoughts in your head into a tangible medium.

This simplicity has not prevented the elevation of the pen to a higher standard. Take for consideration the impeccably engineered pens coming out of Japan, or the functional metal sculptures crafted by Cross and others.

I am not alone in my love of all things pen. There are numerous blogs like The Pen Addict that seek to share the beauty of the pen and hand writing with the wider world, and sites like Jet Pens allow us unfettered access to these beautiful tools that otherwise would be unknown to us.

I remember the first time I experienced the higher pleasures of writing with an imported Japanese gel pen. It was as if I was Arthur wielding Excalibur. The utilitarian plastic barrel betrayed the precisely designed cartridge inside. The way the pen traced across the paper so smoothly, yet with so much control. I felt as if my words could, for the first time, flow unabated onto the paper before me.

I could continue to wax poetic on the myriad ways the pen is one of the most incredible items a person can own, but I will leave you with this thought. Has the pen not created the world we live in today through articles, treaties, proclamations, and declarations?

Let us exalt the now lowly pen to its former glory.

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