It’s Fountain Pen Friday, which got me thinking about what life would be like in a world without the handwritten word.
We’ve got used to digital communications, but imagine if you never received a birthday card in the post or a handwritten love letter tucked under your pillow. (Would you feel the same if it was in 10pt Courier?)
Sure, businesses and offices could operate on gazillions of bytes of digital data, stored on devices possibly as tiny as a matchstick. And maybe humungous business contracts will be signed with a blink of iris recognition, though I think it wouldn’t feel the same as if they were signed with the flourish of a fountain pen.
I can’t work out how many trillions of trillions of words have been written with a fountain pen since it became a commercial writing instrument in the mid-19th century (quill pens have been around for ages.) Things have moved on and we may now think that the keyboard is king. But the pen has a vital part to play in how we learn to write and communicate.
And that starts early in life. Children who can write by hand are quicker at being able to read, retain information and come up with new ideas, according to French neuroscientist Professor Stanislas Deheane. Writing by hand becomes a gateway to mental development and creative thought.
So don’t look down on your own early childhood scribbles. They may have helped you in ways that you never imagined. And take the word of other people who believe in the power of the pen – I’m talking literally, not figuratively.
Neil Gaiman, for example, is a dedicated user of pens. He says it started in 1994 when he began Stardust. ‘In my head I wanted it to be written in the same way as it would have been in the 1920s, so I bought a big notepad and Waterman pen,’ he told the BBC.
He’s writing science fiction, but Gaiman enjoys the earthly, ‘tactile ritual of filling the pens with ink’. And he ‘has two fountain pens on the go, with two different colour inks’.
Then there’s Stephen King, who wrote Dreamcatcher with the ‘world’s finest word processor, a Waterman cartridge fountain pen’, and actually put an author’s note about this in the book.
According to King, ‘writing by hand slows you down, it makes you to think about each word as you write it’. Admittedly, King was recovering from a horrific car accident and found it easier to write by hand, but as he says in the note: ‘I even wrote one night (during a power outage) by candlelight. One rarely finds such opportunities in the twenty-first century, and they are to be savored.’
So future stories about the world are being captured with a writing instrument that has evolved over hundreds of years – and that is why the magic of the fountain pen will endure. Try one yourself.