Is the Pen Mightier Than the Keyboard?
With the infiltration of technological advancement and ease, we have been given the opportunity to connect to one another globally and instantaneously. Yet, at the same time, the surge of email, text, messaging, and social media in our culture has placed a strain on the way we interact with each other and at what speed we’re expected to respond. It’s gone so far that while the Internet has bridged the gap between people on a global scale, it has in its dominance and efficiency, created a gap in how people who are in the same room connect with one another.
There have been instances where I have either witnessed or experienced it myself—where family members and friends get together, and rather than speak to one another, they first pull out their different devices: Android, tablet, or laptop, and begin to either check messages online, play an online game through a downloaded app, chat digitally with someone else in a different city, tweet a 140-character limited thought, update the wittiest status they can think of on Facebook, or post a filtered photo onto Instagram—without intimately or authentically interacting with those physically around them.
The way we socialize has culturally changed.
While we are now avid, digital connoisseurs, our face-to-face interactions can suffer from an unexpected awkwardness due simply to a lack of practice and focus. Eye contact and the art of conversation has become distracted, giving way to the allure and addiction to the digital world.
While in conversation, a person may be guilty of automatically responding to a ping on his or her phone. Rather than a focused or in-depth conversation with a friend across the table, our attention spans have shortened with the unwritten understanding that interruption by phone, text, message, or video chat is not only “normal,” but welcomed—rather than considered inconsiderate or rude.
Instead of searching for a table with the most beautiful view in a restaurant, tables are now scanned for its closest location to an electrical outlet in a cafe in case a mobile device should need recharging.
While people no longer worry, nor care if they carry a pen on-hand, anxiety and panic is caused to those who have left a battery charger at home while out in transit.
The time we spend at work, at social events, our commute, or any spare time that’s afforded us, is now usually spent with our faces intent on a digital screen.
And what we expect to find in our briefcases, purses, or backpacks are now our electronic devices, their corresponding chargers, external hard drives, SD cards, and USB key chains instead of “old-fashioned” pens and paper.
Hardcopy address books have been replaced by digital contact lists. Hardcopy desk agendas have been replaced by digital calendars with the option of automatic reminders or alarms. And “snail” mail has been overcome by the instant gratification of email, texts, or chat messages.
Even technology has created a new language of emoji’s and texting acronyms that usually requires translation through the help of an unofficial, online dictionary, or the advice of a teenager, namely, a niece or nephew with the insatiable social habit of pirating illegal downloads online or supersonic gaming skills acquired from participating in all-night online group competitions—none of which were requirements or interests to an older generation when a printed book was enough to keep people entertained through the gift of literary genius or one’s own imagination.
Children and students are also losing the ability to know how to spell properly or retain information by memory with the accessibility and ease of the Internet and the dependency of people on its search engine giant, Google, which promotes and provides instant information to users at a click of a key, mouse, or touchscreen. Who needs to go to the library and research information from print editions of the encyclopedia when people have become accustomed to checking Google, Wikipedia, and the Internet for their facts?
Even the art of cursive writing has officially been taken out of most curriculum in the educational system. While children and students are encouraged to bring their own devices (BYOD) to school, to type, and learn online; the beautiful art and personal typography of someone’s individual, cursive writing is slowly dying. It is not only no longer required, but no longer encouraged. Children and students are more apt in their typing speed than they are in legible penmanship and when asked if they know how to write in cursive, most young children ask, “What’s that?” Even a joke on Facebook came to surface stating that “One day cursive writing will be our [as in, the older generation’s] secret code.” The implications here are an unnoticeable travesty. Should we then expect our children and our children’s children to some day not know how to write by hand? Or should “chicken-scratch” be the best we can sentimentally hope for?
Even our online personas and lives have and can morph into fictional accounts of our “better” selves, yet not necessarily represent our true authenticity. We have online handles, social media pseudonyms, and altered or imaginary profile avatars. Our online personas can become fantastical exaggerations of who we wish to portray to the online world and to the world at large, rather than who we are originally and personally…even to ourselves.
And “digital real-time,” while it has its advantages for productivity and effectiveness, has in other ways, heightened our stress levels. With the expectation of instantaneous communication, our lives, both social and in the work place, have become inevitably faster.
The Write-On Challenge: 30 Letters in 30 Days
April, known as the National Letterwriting Month, is also the month in which the Write-On campaign encourages others to write 30 letters in 30 days, a campaign that was launched in 2014 with Egg Press and Hello!Lucky staff, an idea inspired by Egg Press founder, Tess Darrow, whose challenge to write a letter daily to family and friends inspired others to follow along.
This month, I encourage and invite you to take the challenge along with me. Yes, this post is about a week late, so if you’re unable to pen 30 letters, you can certainly place the blame on me.
How often do we take an opportunity to sit, relax, and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with a fresh, white, blank piece of paper in front of us, and a pen ready to transcribe our thoughts and feelings to someone we care about in an intentional, slow, and thoughtful way?
Unless you’re already an avid letter-writer with penpals in many different parts of the world, I’m guessing, not often.
Receiving a personally handwritten note card or letter through traditional post is a refreshing way to receive correspondence in a world that is now overrun with unbelievable amounts of email, texts, and chat messages that clog our digital inboxes and our frenetic lives.
And traditional post? Well, the most we can expect from common deliveries are unwanted bill notices that need to be paid or unsolicited flyers and advertisements that urge us to consume even more than we already have or require, and usually end up in the trash, if not the recycling bin. And sure, we may receive the occasional shipment of an online purchase we knowingly made a few weeks ago, but those deliveries hardly come as a joy or a surprise.
But, a handwritten letter, postcard, or note card with your name inscribed on it, penned by a friend or a family member, is a memento of kindness; a message sent from a distance that indirectly says, “You are especially thought of by me.”
In a fast-paced world of digitized interaction, a kind and tactile letter in the mail is not only a rarity, but a gift.
This month (and perhaps beyond April), perhaps you can pen a few letters of your own. Think of someone who may need some encouragement or would do well from receiving a thoughtful surprise. And then take your paper, a few pens, some envelopes, stamps—and then go!
It may not only be therapeutic to you personally, but a beautiful testimony to the art of penmanship and letter-writing.
Have you ever had a penpal before? If so, when and where from?
As an avid letter writer or imagined one, what kind of paper, pens, or mail art do you like to use in your correspondence?
What would you most like to receive in the mail yourself?
What’s the most creative thing you can think of sending to someone in the mail?