Writing Wednesdays: The death of the pen?

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In case you missed it in Friday’s roundup (or elsewhere on the web), I figured I would toss out a question that was recently raised in the New York Times: has the finger killed the pen?

The so-called “death of the pen” strikes me as one of those phrases that will always need a million qualifiers — in daily transactions for which it was once the only tool in town, in homes or offices in which it was once strewn about (really? not a single pen in all of the house?), and so on.

Even the rationale that “Unlike pens, fingers don’t run out of ink, they’re free and you always have one with you” strikes me as a neat little piece of cart-before-horsery. The obvious retort, of course, goes something along the lines of “Unlike digital devices, paper doesn’t run out of batteries, it’s cheap and there’s almost always a scrap within reach.”

But is that really the point? In the article, Foursquare founder Naveen Selvaduri brings up an oft-repeated quote about cameras, namely, that the best camera is the one you have with you. And so it is with pens, paper, fingers, phones, and everything else in your life: stuff is purpose-driven, and technologies have advantages and disadvantages that depend on a number of specific circumstances. If you’re going on Safari in Africa, you might want to bring your very best DSLR. If you’re taking pictures of your kid to share with your friends and family, chances are a cell phone will suffice.

Of course, that wouldn’t generate the same number of loud-mouthed online comments. But surely it paints a fuller picture of most people’s truth?

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