When Pen Meets Paper

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.” — Norbet Platt

Among my inner circle of friends, family and co-workers, it’s well known that I like pens. “Like” as in being somewhat obsessed with nice ones to the point that I couldn’t tell you how many are in my collection. Or if I could guesstimate how many, it would be too embarrassing to reveal.

Using my good pens, rather than just possessing them, requires paper. I’ve always had some type of planner, book or journal to record notes and task items. Post-it Notes, Rhodia or Moleskine journals and Levenger Circa products adequately fill my paper need.

Photo by Mark Baker

Numerous technologies have come along to try to convert us away from paper, including the PalmPilot (remember that oldie but goodie?), early smartphones, pre-smartphones, tablets, watches and now cloud-based tools (Evernote, Todoist, etc.) that store and synchronize data across devices. The marketplace may be driving this development, but research is holding steady in favor of the old-fashioned method. A plethora of studies consistently show that physically writing something down does a better job of committing it to memory that typing it. 4 Benefits of Handwriting Notes Vs. Typing on Laptops succinctly reflects the findings from an oft-cited 2014 study The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard—Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.

Even for a technophile like myself, deleting something off a virtual to-do list never feels as satisfying as the manual process. There’s just something about the tactile feel of pen and paper in hand, and the feeling of accomplishment in making that checkmark by hand and having a permanent, tangible record of accomplishment.  Long live the paper journal—and the pen (or pens) to go along with it!

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The Amoco Pencil Retention Policy

You never know what you might find when looking back through your archives. The Amoco pencil policy memo came my way may years ago via a colleague, Rich Mac Millan, from the Amoco Joliet Chemical plant.

realiteamoco vintage pencilsThis historical treasure provides insight into business culture of the times. There is pronounced top-down management control. The company was introducing a new advancement in office productivity that came with a significant investment to be protected. They put in place a highly detailed implementation plan for a six-month trial, and it’s clear that the only acceptable response to this memo was, “Yes, sir.” No negotiating, no putting a personal spin on the process. Employee empowerment, teams, collaborative decision making, etc. were not in the business lexicon at that time. Imagine today’s Gen X and Gen Y employees working in such an environment.

Amoco pencil retention

P.S. The pencils in the picture are now mine courtesy of eBay. It will be a time honored reminder of how things change.

The Demise of the Pen

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

Yes, I have a pen problem, but perhaps not in the way you might think. The problem is there are fewer and fewer occasions to use my pens, especially since the vast majority of my day is 100% digital. Working with a team with members both inside and outside of the firm means virtual communication.

How many documents do you even sign anymore? In fact, when an official document like a contract requires a signature, I often sign with a finger or stylus on a tablet. No paper required. Thus, Fare Thee Well, My Pen caught my attention. The pen may well be dead!

One result is that it is increasingly hard to find a nice pen store. My two regional favorites (Daly’s Pen Shop in Milwaukee and Century Pens in Chicago) have been lamenting the very same fact. Does scarcity mean the value of my collection will increase or be irrelevant? I’m banking on the former.

There are conflicting studies as to whether people learn and retain information better when they take handwritten notes versus those on a keyboard. That leads me to wonder if a stylus on a tablet has the same memory retention effect as pen to paper? What do you think?