My colleague sat in front of me, jubilant, squatting toad-like in a chair in our newly refurbished, workflow efficient office space. The workspace was now complete. You could survey the vista of differentiated work pods, hot desks and computers of every description. The atmosphere bristled with wi-fi and everything was new; everything except what I was doing…
“It’s the 21st century, why are you still using a fountain pen of all things?” His incredulous words hung in the air like a bad smell as I continued to carefully finish refilling my fountain pen, wipe it clean, then deposit the ink bottle and blotting paper back in my bag ready again to jot down notes from our database so that I had information to hand when I left the office and travelled to the homes of service users.
I thought momentarily about ignoring his smug and annoying question. Why indeed… was it merely a matter of style, novelty or perhaps eccentricity? My initial answer was a mixture of a whole host of things as I remember. But as I’ve thought about that question over the years my answer has developed accordingly.
These days when that question is asked of me, as if using a fountain pen is some sort of lamentable life-limiting folly. I answer with one idea, and it’s not the one most tablet or smartphone wielding, internet savvy technophiles expect. “It’s about staying connected”.
Connected they say? How does that work? Well for me, with all the technology I use it’s the actual nature and action of writing with the tool that a fountain pen is that helps me stay fixed and focused in the moment, properly connected to the things I’m doing and the people around me.
I think that one of the problems we all seem to face these days is that we have become disconnected, not technologically perhaps but personally. We, as people, as well as so many of the things that we get up to have become temporary, transient even. The way we are all bombarded with news, information and advertising means all messages come with a standard ‘Teflon’ coating. Nothing sticks.
Conversely, that which I’ve written personally, like letters whether they be business or personal, things to remember, notes or lists or memo’s or messages, has a sense of permanence and continuity about it. Permanence at least to the degree that the writing is out there, a physical part of my environment, something I can look back on through the pages of my daybook, planner or notepad.
There’s continuity too, I was once told that there are some things in life you should do in the way that your ancestors have, whether it’s cooking, chopping wood or just plain writing. Certainly the latter activity has become important for me. Writing things out by hand, as well a being a pleasure fixes things in my memory. Using a fountain pen helps that even more by imposing a certain rhythm and pace to the writing itself. This helps with the order and clarity of my thoughts and the work they produce. That which is written down by hand has had to pass through the register of my brain in a way that text and email never have. The process necessitates a care in regard to phrasing statements, questions, actions and responses that I’ve found increase both my productivity and effectiveness.
So, to be sure, you’ll still find me using technology. Saving and sending’ uploading and downloading, in and out of the office as the need requires. But if you look carefully the midst of it all there’ll be my Rhodia, Clarefontaine, or Black ‘n Red paper and at least one of my fountain pens, maybe today it’s a Pilot, a Platinum, a Sailor, Conid or Kaweco, whatever has my fancy at the time. I’ll still be writing and staying steadfastly connected in my own way.
Happy New Year, everyone!