The passing of the pen

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Since man first began recording his language in written form, the pen has been an integral part of life. Whether that pen take the form of stone tools, wooden sticks, paintbrushes, quills or what we recognise as a pen today, man has used an implement for marking down a physical representation of the sounds he makes when he speaks. When I was a girl, there was no way life could continue as normal if pens and pencils suddenly disappeared from the face of the Earth.

When I was at junior school, we were taught to write with pencils, with the promise of graduating to pens when we ‘went up’ to senior school. It was a signal that you’d grown up when you used a pen at school instead of a pencil. The other important right of passage was going from what our teachers called, script, which was non joined up (non cursive) writing, to ‘joined up’ (cursive). I can remember one of my first year senior school teachers commenting to me her surprise that I was not yet writing ‘joined up’ like the other kids, and how embarrassed I was.

Part of our learning was concerned with the physical act of writing. We were taught to write neatly, how to do the little tails on the lower case letter a and how to form a proper lower case s. It was regarded as important back then, when writing and writing implements were an essential part of life. No one ever imagined things would change.

Not so now.

For the first time since man hunkered down in caves and grunted to each other, we live our lives without pens. We have laptops, tablets, ipads, desktops, smartphones but no pens. Thankfully we do still need to understand written language, but we don’t actually write it any more, and that is sad. The standard of written language I see every day on social media is appalling, with text speak making up the majority of it. It seems the vowel is fast becoming extinct as our way of expressing ourselves evolves. Even our kids use keypads at kindergarten.

What’s even sadder is that no one seems to mourn the passing of the pen. Fountain pens are now sought after as collectors items and few shops sell them.  They are thought of as intriguingly retro, humorously victorian, and fascinatingly steampunk, but never useful. No longer will you see a man with a small blue stain on the bottom of the breast pocket of his shirt, nor anyone with a similar blue stain on the inside tip of their middle finger. Most probably won’t even understand what I mean by that last sentence. Those few writers who do still write with pen and paper are thought of as weird. We smile at their funny habit that prevents them from writing as fast as the rest of us. This should not be so. Using a pen takes time. As you write, you think about what you’re writing. That investment of thought means you have a real ‘connection’ with what you’ve written, more so than you ever do with typed words. It’s a subtle thing, but profound.

We can’t move backwards. Nor can we un-invent technology. We can however, make an effort to keep hold of what is important, and the ability to write down your language is more important than you know, especially in this nuclear age. Just think, if they drop the bomb and we lose all our technology, how are you all going to survive if you have no pens and don’t know how to use them?

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