BY DON FLUCKINGER • “So what,” said Ginny Carpenter, the U.S. vice president for marketing at Anoto — not to be confused with Onoto, the pen marque — “do you think of the future of handwriting?” We were continuing a conversation we’d started a year ago, documented in this space. She and a coworker had just completed a podcast conversation with me revolving around electronic health records for the site at which I’m a reporter.
|“Handwriting’s dead,” I said.
“Not a fair question,” I said, considering my personal life includes a love of vintage fountain pens and a father-in-law who shares that hobby. Indeed, he has taken it to further to the nth degree, making fountain pens his livelihood and doing nutty things like teaching my son Patrick — his grandson — as much Palmer Method cursive as the kid can stand.
Patrick at age 4, with a Conway Stewart Churchill. He’s 8 now.
Carpenter believes that the pen will survive the iPad generation for several reasons:
Unlike computers or smartphones, the pen is the only language-independent input device.
Learning to write and experimenting with writing letterforms have been proven as a key to learning to read.
When the typewriter came into vogue in the late 19th and early 20th century, doomsayers back then proclaimed the death of writing.
“Sure,” I said, “you might very well be right.” I hope so. As she enumerated her arguments, these counterarguments popped into my mind just as quickly:
The finger on a touch-screen device is just as language independent. In fact, my daughter Susanna works an iPad, and she doesn’t even know how to read yet.
Patrick taught himself to read with an iPod, believe it or not. I watched him learn to navigate to his favorite songs at the age of three, having matched the words of a song’s chorus to the title displayed on the screen. I asked him how he knew how to find songs like “Little Bit o’ Soul,” and he explained that he was reading the words. I, not believing him, made some requests. He delivered on cue.
It was still a paper world back when the typewriter came out. We’re quickly evolving to a paperless world.
“Handwriting’s dead,” I said.
“But you…look at what you did while we were recording our podcast,” Carpenter said, pointing at my notes, where I’d scribbled a few lines to keep my thoughts straight.
“Yeah, but look at me. I’ve got gray in my beard. I’m old. And I’m a fountain pen collector. A lost cause.”
At which, she laughed.
Maybe I’m a pessimist, or perhaps trying to hold on to my reporter’s objectivity in a devil’s-advocate sort of fashion. After all, when conversing with a marketing expert, if you’re a reporter it’s best to maintain an almost-unhealthy skepticism for the benefit of one’s readers. Can’t drink the Kool-Aid and give up your street cred, no?
Of course, deep down in my subjective pen-collector soul, I hope she’s right. But I fear, to paraphrase the inimitable Bones McCoy, “Handwriting’s dead, Jim.”
Further Reading: Pen, Ink, & Evidence: A Study of Writing and Writing Materials for the Penman, Collector, and Document Detective, by Joe Nickell
Anoto may be the future of pens, but how about the past? Want to know what the Romans wrote with? How to make oak gall ink? How pens work? These subjects and many, many more are covered in Joe Nickell’s fascinating tome. It’s a worthwhile addition to any pen aficionado’s library.
|Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site.