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Sunday, 29 August 2010

What happened to good old pen and paper?

WARNING: This may come over as a bit of a rant, and is probably not that well written. Maybe I am just weird and possibly the only person who even thinks the topic is worth writing about, so be forewarned.

I sit here this morning recovering from a splitting headache. I spent the whole of yesterday evening suffering because of the throbbing, stiffening pain behind my eyes. It would appear that I have to get another screen filter because all this computer usage is really destroying my eyes. And as I suffered yesterday, I asked myself, what happened to the good old days of pen and paper??

Increasingly we are giving our lives over to screens. It almost seems normal now to type everything as opposed to write it, but that is not where it stops. As a result of us having transferred all our writing, and everything else in our lives, to the screens, we now even prefer our literature on a screen, as eBooks and eReaders like Kindle and the iPad take over the reading experience, sales soaring. One may think it strange that someone of my age would not be strongly behind all these technological advances; well in fact I am. I can't deny that an eReader would have been much more pleasant than the burden of 2 bags full of books and notepads that I lugged around daily to college and then to university; yes, technology has its place and its uses. What worries me is my younger cousin and his generation with terrible handwriting and atrocious spelling who don't seem to care much because they do everything by computer anyway.

"Why don't you write anything by hand? At least the first draft," I suggest.
"No, that's long! Anyway, it's easier to do it on my laptop to sort out the spelling and punctuation. And you know I got bad handwriting. If I am writing it I have to go really slow or it looks rubbish"
"Yeah, but don't you like the actual writing? I mean having your folders with your notes and stuff in real life, you know like on my bookshelf."
"No, that's just you because you're a nerd. Got all my folders nicely organised on my laptop. It's very real, see. But that's okay, we won't tell anyone about your fetish for notepads and pens, hahaha"


Yet he reflects the attitude of so many people these days. It may be quicker and easier to write on a PC, but why are we always in such a rush to do things quickly anyway? And what's wrong with a bit of extra effort?

Now I have left university I am finding less and less reason to pick up a pen and write anything (even at university most people used laptops). I do still write my first drafts of poems and other short writing projects by hand, because I love the intimacy of it, I love picking out the right pen, the one that writes smoothly, swiftly, the writing pad that best suits the occasion, and feel the words flow from me, the movements of my hand in unison with my thoughts, shaping the letters and words. Then when I do transfer it to the computer, well it simply is like writing up my second draft, making corrections as I go.

However, I also love working by hand because it means I pay more attention to my writing, my spelling, grammar, punctuation, and tone. Literacy seems to be so poor these days and I wonder how much our screen-life has to do with that.

In hindsight, the amount of reading and writing that I do would probably destroy my eyes eventually anyway, even if I didn't have to spend all day in front of the computer. But that doesn't change my concern for how our current technological relationship to reading and writing is affecting literacy and the way we value the art of reading and of writing.

Rant now terminated.


  1. I totally agree with you.
    Standards of writing, grammar and literacy in general are deplorable, thanks to computers, mobile phones and games consoles. There also has to be some blame apportioned to the teaching profession as well.
    I had a fantastic English teacher, in my formative junior school days, who was a stickler for evenly spaced, even sized letters. We had spelling tests every week without fail and any grammatical errors were pointed out in bright red pen, as part of the marking procedure.
    I am amazed at the number of both children and adults I talk to, that never read a book. I can't imagine a world without books (that's the paper kind, not e readers, of course).

  2. Thank you for the comments, much appreciated. I have to agree with you, the teaching profession, and parents too, have part of the blame for the current trends. Literacy is said to be an important issue, and I do believe that teachers care about it, but they are not being given the right tools to tackle the issue, or even enough training at times to ensure that they themselves are up-to-scratch.

    And if parents are going to buy these electrical items for their kids, they have to be responsible and make sure that they maintain a balance between technological and traditional educational activities.


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