My tech-savvy friend Sam and I have been talking a great deal lately about the quality of writing, and how we each write differently depending on if we’re typing versus writing in longhand. This has been something much talked about on forums such as the Fountain Pen Network. Today there is much more of an emphasis on ‘quantity’ instead of quality, and nothing embodies this more than Twitter and text messaging in general. Language is being chopped down, abbreviated, made into symbols and numbers, only to represent a general idea of someone’s fleeting thought, with a limitation on characters being the main motivator.

Sam sent me this online article from talking about how the US Library of Congress is going to save every Tweet every Tweeted, for posterity (and I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook is next). That means every tweet from your friend saying “just took a dump, gonna make a grilled cheese” to the “check out my naughty vids” tweets you get from random ‘hot girls’ that follow you are going to be pieces to the puzzle that we save for future generations to see how we live right now.

So this poses an interesting question. Is it well thought-out, educated writing that should be saved for posterity, or the mundane day-to-day details that we don’t think twice about that will shape what future generations think of us? Here’s what Sam wrote me:

“We all have to ask ourselves just one question: do we want the future generations of humans to construct their view of our lives based on 140 character snippets that are not very well constructed and mostly link to things that no longer exist, or would we rather them find our old dusty journals, filled with our free flowing thoughts poured out with no character limit, painting an infinitely more personal picture of who we really are?

Or, more concisely, what creates a truer picture of who you are and how you live your life: your journal or your Twitter stream?”

Sam embodies the essence of what I am ‘officially’ coining the term “Technoscribe”, an individual who has a strong understanding of technology and computers yet still chooses to write in the physical medium (via pen and paper). The technoscribe’s motivations can vary quite a bit, but the underlying theme is that there is a greater thought, meaning, or passion that is derived from making a physical connection with a pen in your hand to the paper on your desk (or lap, as the case may be). The technoscribe is one who owns and uses an iPhone, yet carries a physical weekly planner for day-to-day organization. The technoscribe sends dozens or hundreds of emails at work every day, yet comes home to write letters in longhand to friends and pen pals. The technoscribe has a daily blog to express thoughts and ideas (perhaps even about writing!), yet at the end of the day will curl up in bed with a pen and a journal to write about their thoughts and feelings of the day.
I’ve noticed this as a trend with most of my paper and ink customers (primarily fountain pen users). I am an online retailer, so clearly the vast majority of my customers are computer literate and tech-savvy. As I have branched out with more and more technological mediums (this blog, my YouTube channel, flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Ustream, and forums like Fountain Pen Network, to name a few), I have been reaching different types of tech-savvy folks with a common interest in writing. I’ve even read other blogs about this similar phenomenon among photographers and graphic designers.

This is a unique phenomenon we’re encountering with the advancement of technology, almost a paradox. People using the internet to connect to each other with a passion for writing which is inherently removed from the very technology that is helping to sustain it. There is not enough interest to locally sustain a business selling the pens, paper, and ink to support this passion, so everyone is turning to the internet. Online retailers like me are making products (and information about how to best use these products) more available through websites and blogs, yet the very use of these products requires one to be ‘offline’.

Sam had an interesting point though, one that I have not considered about the technoscribe’s interest in fountain pens specifically. In Sam’s words:

“As I now see it (which I might add I discovered through writing about this topic in my journal), the fountain pen is the most advanced writing technology; and Clairefontaine paper is the most advanced paper; and J. Herbin makes the most advanced inks. The roller ball pen is definitely a huge step down after all the advances up to the modern fountain pen. Think about the history of the writing instrument; the fountain pen is most definitely the absolute best writing instrument before roller balls took over and then electronic communication came along.”

Sam brings up an interesting point that the technoscribe might not be writing with a fountain pen in order to ‘get away’ from technology, but rather because the fountain pen represents the most advanced technology ever produced in a writing instrument. It’s the ‘gadget’ appeal. You can customize and grind nibs to your exact preference, get a pen made in a variety of materials, styles, colors, and complex filling mechanisms, there are a multitude of colors of inks (including even glow-in-the-dark ink!), and a variety of paper sizes, colors, styles, and textures to suit the feel of writing you prefer, or the effect you want to give the recipient of your writing. The world of fountain pens is in and of itself a very complex and interesting place, the exact type of environment in which is a technophile’s playground. When a technophile enters into the world of the fountain pen, a technoscribe is born.

So I leave you with this thought: is the change in technology from the physical writing world to the digital writing world an abomination leaving only the history of well-written documents in longhand writing? Or is it a birth of a new purpose for longhand writing, one where it is no longer necessary for daily communication, but used only by those who are passionate enough to do it even though they don’t have to?

***Not two hours after posting this, I received an email from Justin with the attached image:

It’s actually not the first time I’ve received an email of a handwritten letter before. Though I wanted to show Justin’s letter here because he’s the first one I’ve heard from who uses a word processor to assist in writing longhand, often I heard it the other way around. This adds a whole new dimension to the relationship of technology and writing, one that I myself will look to explore further.