Handwriting

When was the last time your pen ran out of ink? Do you still own a pen?

And, for people of a certain age, do you know how to use a pen? Doubtless today an ability today as valuable as being able to use an abacus.

One imagines youngsters, agile and adept at chopsticks – as though they were indigenous people – puzzling over a pen. Might as well show them a quill and inkpot.

Much has been written, accompanied by the requisite hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing and wailing, of the lost art of penmanship.

Cursive writing as a lost art. Handscript as evidence for and a reflection of the expansiveness of the mind that controls the hand.

Pens, of course, were once enormously important. Civilizations were founded on their slender backs, and later frequently clipped to pocket protectors. Why, just think of all the pithy expressions revealing our affair with the instrument. A pen for your thoughts. A pen saved is a pen earned.

Keyboarding, today’s term for “typing,” holds little allure, scant romanticism and none of the prejudice once poured liberally over typing classes.

Well, I took typing in eighth grade. That’s circa 1963 or four. Perfectly useless skill, I thought. With all the wisdom and life experience an eighth grader can boldly muster.

The only ones requiring such a skill, surely, were those who aspired to secretarial positions. Something I did not.

In fact, I aspired to little. Maybe pinball. A dash of penny-pitching. Pop music. And a lifetime away from school and all the education system represented.

Secretaries should know how to type. If only for that narrow band of society who require typed transcription of their thoughts.

Not a part of that band, and with little interest to work for them, no need for me to learn – never mind master – the skill.

My first interface with computers was at a keypunch machine into which 80-column stiff-paper IBM cards were inserted. But this was not typing.

Indeed, the biggest challenge presented by the keypunch machine – a device, as Woody Allen would say, as big as a Buick – was not the keyboard. It was finding the On-Off switch. Why such a fundamental step was construed as the nation’s Top Secret, I still can’t figure out.

(It was BEHIND the machine! You practically had to know someone to learn this.)

Apple took lessons from the keypunch machine manufacturers. Of that I am sure. For what else explains where their machines On/Off button is located?

Because today pens are given out freely, on nearly every occasion and frequently without attachment to any occasion, most people probably have a drawer full of them. Which they do not use.

Moreover, your pen never runs out of ink because you lose it before it runs out. And you don’t care because, just like coffee mugs, there’s an inexhaustible supply of pens.

And for this week’s final, penetrating question: when was the last time you bought a pen?