Connoisseurs of fountain pens are by their very nature, individuals who might object to the ubiquity of digital technology. We might agree that the touch screen offers convenience, but we would likely argue that the hard glass screen is a barrier to the textural emotion of a pen and paper.
Then there’s the ‘indexicality’, which denotes the importance of the physical imprinting from a person at a specific moment in time. To receive a handwritten letter is to receive a physical imprint of the moment when that letter was composed. A tangible object imbued with meaning. There is no digital equivalent, any and all trace of the writer is transmuted through pixels, wifi signals and electrons until what you receive is just binary data reorganised and shuffled into cold text. There’s nothing to keep in a drawer, nothing to cherish.
But beyond the emotional and physical connections we feel with the written word, what else do we lose when we put down the MontBlanc and pick up the iPad?
Well, for one thing, our capacity to recall, remember and engage with complex information is in decline. Often described as ‘digital amnesia’, this is our collective reliance on machines to do all our remembering and thinking. But it goes beyond storing basic facts, the decrease in physical writing impacts our collective ability to form strong memories.
Researchers have conducted studies on body movement and memory. Described as ‘Kinaesthetic memory’ it is at the heart of repetitive and rote learning. This age-old practice essentially requires a repeated physical action, often transcribing a text, to cement that text in memory. From actors to chemists and doctors, the practice of writing out a portion of text over and over again has empowered generations to have almost perfect recall. As if the memory has been stored in the mind and the muscle.
Swap the fountain pen for a digital tablet or a keyboard and you lose a fundamental way humans have successfully memorised facts for centuries.
So far we have discussed the tangible qualities of a written letter, the emotional connection of a handwritten letter and the physical benefits of writing for learning and memory. But all these things can be completed with a pencil, a biro or even a stick of chalk.
So the question remains, why is a fountain pen important in the digital age?
Perhaps to consider this properly we have to think about the things we cherish and pass down to our children. Most of us would prioritise antiques, jewellery, photographs and artworks. These things are usually artfully crafted, carry sentimental memories and have an element of scarcity to them. In short, they are one-of-a-kind or irreplaceable.
The right fountain pen fits into this category. Unlike a laptop or a tablet, it has a timeless quality where you are sure your granddaughter can enjoy the same writing experience 70 years from now. A fountain pen has a physical connection to its user. Over time, the nib shifts to fit your writing style and the writer and the fountain pen become symbiotic. That will never happen with a keyboard.
Human beings are not digital creatures. And the way we compose text is emotional and sentimental. In the digital age, we may have to adapt and change. But one thing is certain, the fountain pen isn’t going anywhere.