July 16, 2018 4 min read



The advent of the do-it-all tablet, that miniature computer we can take with us anywhere, seems to render things like writing by hand obsolete. Some may be convinced that technological advances like the stylus, tablet and e-reader will replace analog writing in much the same way that television “killed” radio.

But can they?

Is the tapping of a stylus on glass the same as putting pen to paper? A 2013 article in Scientific American called ‘The Reading Brain in the Digital Age’ stated that may not be the case. While the studies it cited were inconclusive, they did seem to indicate a leaning toward traditional paper books while reading, and that reading physical books helped with navigating longer texts in particular:

…evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done.

And while pencil sales in the U.S. are declining, there remains an appeal to writing by hand with a good old-fashioned pen or pencil, especially among creative professionals like writers, designers, and architects. According to the website Mental Floss, famous authors like Susan Sontag and Truman Capotewrote their first drafts by hand, with a pen or pencil and a legal pad. Capote wrote lying down, with a glass of wine in one hand and a pencil in the other:

"No, I don't use a typewriter," he said in an interview with Paris Review, cited by Mental Floss, in 1957. "Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.”

Even with the advance of technology, there still remained some appeal in the humble pencil, and in the act of writing, to creative professionals of the day. That’s carried forward into modern times, according to a recent episode of the popular Freakonomics podcast, which used the pencil to illustrate the concept of the free market, that famous “invisible hand” of economics.

In the episode, they spoke with the proprietor of a small pencil shop in New York City. Caroline Weaver explains that she’s always had an obsession with the pencil, and her business still thrives today. You can find pencils from just .30 apiece to rare editions for $75, and she’s turning a profit. People, even today, are drawn to the pencil.

Writing things out the analog way can also benefit the brain. According to Mental Floss, there are four major benefits of writing out your thoughts or ideas or even drawings with a pencil and paper:

  1. It helps people learn. Writing by hand activates the part of the brain known as the reticular activating system (RAS), which serves as a kind of processing filter for your mind. Activating the RAS successfully allows you to focus more on what you’re doing in the moment.
  2. It can help you write better, too. We’ve already mentioned the affinity of well-known authors for writing by hand, and a studydone in 2009 by the University of Washington showed that young students wrote longer essays using more complete sentences than other students using keyboards.
  3. It helps cut out distraction. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but odds are that your notebook isn’t connected to Twitter or Instagram, and all you have in front of you is the paper, the pencil, and the task. This helps improve focus, and the end product.
  4. It can keep your mind active and sharp as you age. Writing engages multiple areas of the brain through the use of motor skills, your memory, and more. Regularly activating these areas helps keep the neural pathways fresh, so the more you do it, the stronger they’ll be, which makes writing agreat way to tone up the brain. Characters such as Chinese lettering, for example, were remembered with more accuracy when written down as opposed to being seen on a screen.

While the once-ubiquitous yellow pencil may not be as common today, you can still find excellent writing instruments, if you know where to look. The mechanical pencils and ballpoint pens we make at Modern Fuel aremachined and finished in the United States for a smooth look. This allows us to give our pencils the attention needed to make them beautifully designed writing tools that feel perfectly balanced in your hand.

We have our hands in every step of the creation process, which means we know just how good our pencils are, and how long they’ll last you. Simply put, they’re designed to be heirlooms. Made from metal, with high-quality graphite inserts and no plastic parts, they’re something Capote may have been glad to write with as he sipped his glass of wine.

So, will the tablet kill handwriting, kill the pencil? It doesn’t seem likely. When CDs and digital downloads arose, people thought the vinyl record was dead. But in recent years it too has experienced a resurgence in popularity. People enjoy the feel of them, the quality of the sound, the novelty. As is it with them, so it is with the pencil. They may have grown a bit more rare, but good ones are still easy to find, and a delight to use.

Andrew Sanderson
Andrew Sanderson

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