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You might think that cursive writing is a waste of time, and if you do, you’d be in good company. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, was asked by ABC News what he expects to be obsolete technology in ten years. As the commander of the technology juggernaut, he ought to know. His quick answer was the fountain pen.
Fountain Pens? Aren’t They Already Obsolete?
Be careful to whom you say that. There is a growing community of fountain pen enthusiasts that would disagree heartily. Well, sort of. They would admit that fountain pens aren’t really necessary anymore, and they haven’t been since the invention of the ballpoint pen. Technically, that makes them obsolete.
However, just because a technology is no longer needed doesn’t mean it is no longer wanted, or even useful. Take, for example, the gas-powered car. Tesla’s electric car is the superior technology, many would say. At the very least, most people would agree that non-petrol powered cars are the future. Google is betting a lot of dough on that, taking it one step further with their self-driving car. Yet, everyday millions of people worldwide fire up the engine, pop the clutch, and take off the line like a jack rabbit, if only for a few yards. People love something they have total control over.
“Like a Ferrari or McLaren, vehicles that are able to get you from point A to B, you can’t fully appreciate them until you get them on a track, filled with race fuel, and taught how to drive them.”
As a matter of course, if you’re going to drive a fountain pen you need the proper race track, or high quality notebook.
Penmanship a Marketable Skill
Of course, being taught how to drive, er, use a fountain pen includes learning cursive writing. It is a skill, perhaps not in broad demand, but some employers do require it. Some even request handwritten resumés. Here’s a recent one:
Alison Doyle, Job Searching Expert for About.com admits it’s a rare thing but it happens
“…because the job involves writing and your handwriting needs to be legible. It’s also a way to check out your spelling and grammar.”
That’s a good point. Until they invent a pen that comes with spelling and grammar check, you’ve got to rely on your brain when handwriting something.
In Tips for Writing Handwritten Cover Letters, Ms. Doyle advises,”…using a good quality pen.” What could be better quality than a decent fountain pen? She also advises you to:
“Sign your letter with your full name…and make sure your signature is legible, not a scribble. Even if you print your letter, your signature should be written in cursive.”
Cursive – there’s that word again. To really provide an outstanding signature, you need to be able to write clearly in cursive. And since your name is your stake in this world, shouldn’t it be written with a pen that is as serious as that? A fountain pen is the only way to go for important signatures.
Journalist for Demand Media, Nicole Vulcan, writes in How to Write a Handwritten Cover Letter for a Resume that a good quality pen should be used.
“While it’s perfectly acceptable to use a ballpoint pen, using a fountain pen or gel pen will look more sophisticated, and demonstrate that you’re willing to take care to make your correspondence look good.”
Your John Hancock
If you don’t think that a good signature, done with fountain pen, is important, you’re in for an argument with the brightest and most powerful people in the world today, and throughout history. When a treaty is signed, you’ll find that it is done so with a fountain pen. When a billion-dollar deal is signed, you’ll find that the fountain pen was the instrument of choice for closing the deal. I would be beyond surprised if Mr. Nadella has never done so. Surely the American Declaration of Independence, arguably the most important document in history, would be nothing to look at if John Hancock printed his name with a ball-point pen, third-grader style. We certainly wouldn’t have the saying, “Put your John Hancock here.”
Mastering the Fountain Pen Equals Success?
“But only a few people ever need to do that. Most of us will never take part in such things.”, you might argue. And you would be right.
However, the reason you might not take part in such epic signings, might be the fact that you don’t use a fountain pen. How’s that for chicken meets egg? Bryan Lewis, headmaster of Mary Erskine and Stewart’s Melville junior school in Edinburgh (that’s a pen full), believes:
“Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not-insignificant bonus of developing children’s self-esteem.”
He stated such in School Brings Back Pens So Pupils Get Write Stuff. It’s common knowledge that it is hard to succeed in life with low self-esteem, so why not take every advantage you can get? Private schools are in the business of turning out leaders in every walk of life. Perhaps he’s on to something. However, being able to afford up to to £20,000 to go to school probably means you’ve already got a head start on Johnny Public School.
In fact, Mr. Lewis said that he’s been having a hard time recruiting young teachers with a solid command of the language and attributes that to the fact that they never learned proper handwriting, and that proper handwriting includes the use of a fountain pen. In the same article, it states, “The Headteachers’ Association of Scotland believes handwriting skills should be taught as a “priority” as soon as children begin primary school.” Sounds pretty heady to me.
Still the New Thing
Truly obsolete technologies disappear from the market, don’t they? Like the carburetor and the 8-track. Yet Steven Brocklehurst, BBC News Magazine writer, reports in Why Are Fountain Pen Sales Rising? that, “Online retailer Amazon says sales so far this year (2012 – author) have doubled compared with the same period in 2011. They are four times higher than 2010.” He states that major fountain pen manufacturers, Parker and Lamy, each have seen sales growth in recent years. A cursory search on eBay for fountain pens reveals over 50,000 results, the majority of them being for new fountain pens – not just collectibles and antiques. These pens also aren’t just the domain of the wealthy or snobby either. Sure the most expensive ones run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a decent pen can be had for as low as a couple dollars.
Maybe Mr. Nadella thinks fountain pens are obsolete as a technology since their development has stagnated. According to a Google Patent search, patents for fountain pen improvements have been filed as recently as 2013. Patent CN 103350585 A describes a pen that, “… can effectively increase the amount of ink a single inhalation, reduce the number of the ink suction, extended periods of time.”
The patent is originally from China, so the Google translation is lacking. Essentially, the inventor has found a way to get more ink into a fountain pen so you don’t have to refill it as often. If people in the country that produce the most high-tech products in the world seem to think fountain pens are worth the effort, perhaps we should listen.
Conclusion: YOU are WRONG, Sir!
This is all to say that, no, fountain pens are not the pinnacle of writing technology, but that, yes, it seems to be a technology that is certainly not yet ready to die. Whether it’s for the beauty of the pen or the words that flow from it, for the nostalgia or the prestige, the fountain pen has a permanent home in the hearts and desks of millions around the world.
Sure, Mr. Nadella was probably just throwing a thought out there because it was a rapid fire question, and it was all in good fun. And this exercise has been good fun, too. However, to paraphrase Sir John Cleese, humour only relieves us of the solemnity of a situation, not the seriousness.
Do you use a fountain pen? Are you thinking of getting one now? Are you a fountain pen maker and want to show your appreciation for this article by sending the author lovely fountain pen goodies? Let’s talk about it in the comments. That’s where we all learn and grow.
Image credits: $250,000 Fountain Pen via eBay, ESMS Student Using Fountain Pen via ESMS.org.uk, Fountain Pen and Dictionary via PixaBay, Satya Nadella’s Signature via Microsoft, Waterman Fountain Pen Patent Drawing, 1888 Flocken Elektrowagen by Franz Haag, Tesla Model S, Ballpoint Pen Parts, Bickham Letter by George Bickham, Stewart’s Melville College, Edinburgh by Kim Traynor, Satya Nadella via PCWorld.com, John Hancock’s Signature, Pelikan Kolbenf Fountain Pen via WikiMedia.