One wouldn’t be mistaken to say that there is a direct correlation with digital progress and the decline of pen sales. It makes sense, in a way. One didn’t expect a boom in iPods when Spotify got on the scene. Technology – both analog and digital – has a Darwinism about it. The survival of the fittest, and all that.
But one would be mistaken to think of pens as some sort of relic of the past, a kind of dinosaur in our digital age. Yes, they’ve been relegated to the sidelines, but they are far from extinct.
Twenty years ago, the pen was ubiquitous. Of course computers were in most households at this time, but we did not rely on them the way we do now. The pen was what was used to write thank-you notes, to sign checks, to do multiplication tables. Hell, even to doodle in the margins during a particularly boring lecture. All of that has been usurped by technological alternatives that can, conveniently, fit in the palm of one’s hand.
But do you ever miss a handwritten note? Do you miss the white noise of a pen when you’re clicking it mindlessly? When was the last time your fingers were ink-stained? Do you miss it? Of course you do. These are human experiences that can’t be replicated online.
The world we live in is a convenient one, but at some point we trade personality for convenience. Pens live on now because they do what an iPhone can’t: connect us in a physical way.
Pens themselves are the most tactile form of communication one can participate in. Anything more tactile and you’d be fingerpainting. It is for this reason that I simply cannot see pens going anywhere. They have a firm place within the digital world, but now it is an exercise of expression and no longer one of necessity.
To use a pen is to know the boundaries of what technology can do for you. For me, I have a terrible memory unless I have something written down. I recall the to-do list in full, rather than as a one-off item thrown onto an app. Others I know write poetry by hand. They say it feels alive when they do it. I was at a leadership summit once and everyone wrote by hand. “It’ll keep you from being distracted,” the moderator commented. I quite agreed.
But to use a pen is also to form the boundaries of the life one wants to live. Pens, as we know, are a gentleman’s best friend. There is dignity to having an inkwell on your desk, a few pieces of paper strewn in the trash bin nearby. I always feel like my money is real when I endorse the back of my check versus waiting for an email from PayPal. I have an entire notebook where I only draw plans for my garden and farm pastures. I tried it in Adobe Illustrator once and I was left with too many rose bushes, having read the diagram completely wrong. Dignified is the word for a man who uses a pen. He knows himself and his interests. Can the same be said for someone hunched on their phone? I think not.
And pens themselves have personality. They have the aforementioned dignity, panache. If you handed me an iPhone X or an iPhone 13, I couldn’t tell you the difference, really. But you can tell a lot about a pen when held. The quality, the craftsmanship, the history, the feeling. It’s all there. Pens have been a social signifier for centuries because of this very reason. When one holds a pen with history, it has a totemic ability to make you feel just as elegant. I just don’t get that from my Amazon Kindle.
This is because Big Tech is built on a faulty retail model sacrifices elegance for its bottom line. The tech market’s goal is to get more of their products into people’s hands. New products come out at a rapid pace and the older models become obsolescent, fueling a secondary market to keep those who can’t afford the initial offering happy, too. With this, there’s no exclusivity, no respectability to this model of retail. Thank God the pen industry doesn’t adhere to this idea of retail inundation.
Anyone can get a Macbook. Not everyone has a Montegrappa, I’ll put it that way as kindly as I can.
I’m quite happy to balance my life both online and on paper. I work all day on the computer. I am another person online, one who tries to appeal to a wide audience and remain neutral on all topics, so the personal brand I’ve built around myself over the years doesn’t crumble. But when I am at my desk, writing notes for my novel, I use a pen. It is when I am most myself: a 30-year-old who is exhausted by my screen, who hopes to one day be remembered as a gentleman, and who enjoys the finer things in life, no matter how small they may be.