I am a firm believer in always maintaining a low-tech backup system for those times when such basic necessities as electricity and WiFi are not available. It may be hard to believe but there are places in the world where iPhones, Droids, and laptops won’t work! I know, crazy, yes?
Which is why I carry two pieces of technology that operate in such extreme conditions. One is called a notepad and made of pieces of paper bound together inside two hard covers. The second is critical for the success of the notepad and it’s called a pen. This is a small, hand-held tube containing ink, a colored liquid that you can use to mark the paper.
I’m mentioning these in detail because it is possible that some people in the not-to-distant future may not have any direct experience with these items. They may also be unfamiliar with the process of scratching marks on paper, which we call writing. Unbelievable? Maybe not.
From Fall 2011, the State of Indiana will no longer require students to learn cursive script as part of the school curriculum. It will become “optional” – which is as good as saying “ignored.” Hawaii has jumped on the bandwagon by adopting a similar stance, along with Illinois, Ohio, and apparently a good number of others. Doubtless kids will be required to take a stab at hitting keys on a keyboard or iPad, provided it doesn’t eat into their “Angry Birds” time; and of course, it will be essential to learn to spell in order to send text messages and tweets. Well, sort of spell. But the actual skill of using a pen on paper could be on the way out. Once credit card technology can handle fingerprints, we won’t even have to sign receipts.
All of this has been steadily creeping up on us as can be evidenced by the fact that trying to get ink for refilling a fountain pen is becoming a tougher task than tracking down a crystal skull – or the scrolls in the Ark of the Covenent. Hell, it would be easier to find the scrolls than to write them if you needed to use a bottle of ink!
My low-tech backup system currently consists of a Moleskine reporter’s notepad and a Cross Torero Diamondback fountain pen. In truth, I’ve been a Moleskine notebook scribbler for a few years now and the pen can vary, but essentially, armed with these two pieces of equipment, I can keep track of ideas, save contact details, draw maps for people, and use the International Phonetic Alphabet to knock out a phonological analysis. My first draft was “..to knock up a phonological analysis” but I am aware that “knock up” in the US means something different from the UK meaning of “knock up” that I am referring to!
At this point in evolution, it is still possible to refill these pens using ink-filled plastic cartridges but as we become more eco-conscious, using a refillable cartridge makes more sense. And after all, this is precisely how you could do it less than 30 years ago. Now I’m not talking going back to the quill and dipping into an inkwell, just being able to suck ink from a bottle into a pen. Hardly rocket science.
But how easy is it to find bottles of ink? Amazingly enough, these are now “specialist items.” In fact, if you type the work “ink replacement” or “ink cartridge” into a search engine, you find printer inks. Go to Staples and you’ll even find fountain pens as “fine writing instruments” and not “pens.” Trying to get hold of a fountain pen is like taking a trip to Diagon Alley and finding Ollivanders (“The pen chooses the writer, Speech Dude. It’s not always clear why.”)
In the absence of Hogwortian powers, I’m afraid that the quest for ink meant having to go to a variety of stores, which included Staples (one bottle of black ink), Wal-Mart (no ink), a local craft store (lots of calligraphy equipment but no bottled ink), and a book store (no ink, no books – it was the local Borders and tragically its last day. Now there’s a sign of the times.)
It’s somewhat ironic that in order to maintain this quaint, old-fashioned art of writing on paper with a fountain pen I ended up having to use the internet, the very thing that is hastening us toward a new phase of literacy, or even illiteracy. After all, if I can talk to a computer and have it speak back, why do I even need to write anything?
Perhaps Robert Graves was more prophetic than he knew when he wrote the words of the final lines of his classic story, I, Claudius; “Write no more now, Tiberius Claudius, God of the Britons, write no more.”