For the Love of Chicken Scratch

It has been a while since I have blogged anything, mostly because, in all honesty, I have been too lazy to try to put ideas down on paper.  Well, that’s not really true.  I haven’t put ideas down on paper in a long time.  Paper and pen are old technologies that I rarely employ these days.  I was watching the TV show “Almost Human” with Karl Urban which is set in a techno-advanced near future where half of the police force is staffed by robots and everything is done electronically.  On this episode, Urban’s character Kenex is confounded by some scribbles on small pieces of paper.  The witness tells him that her dead boyfriend was old school and wrote his phone number on the paper and kept it after she tore it up.  She thought his sentimentality was sweet.  Kenex then searches all over the precinct for a piece of paper to impress a girl.  It takes a long time.  No one in this dystopian future uses paper anymore.  I know I rarely do.

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I have been writing on a laptop, netbook and tablet for years.  I use my mobile phone to dictate notes to myself.  It just makes sense to me.  I was working with a technician the other day and he had this stack of index cards in a cup holder in his van.  I asked about it and he told me that he takes notes on every job he works to keep a ready reference.  Outstanding idea that more technicians should adopt.  When I was a technician, I similarly kept notes on my jobs, but I did it on a laptop.  This tech has an iPhone and an iPad and still uses pen and paper to take notes.  I felt like I was back in 2000.  Someone get me a cd player.

I went rambling though a Barnes and Noble and one of the largest sections they have are journals.  Some are very well put together, bound in leather, heavyweight, low-acid-content paper journals.  Now, I love leather.  Anything leather.  Seeing a leather-bound book gets to me in a real , almost physical way.  Every time I see one, my first thought is ‘buy it.’  Then I look at it and ask myself when would I use it?  Could I see myself carrying this everywhere I go?  I already carry my tablet and phone everywhere.  Which would best facilitate writing?  The answer to that question is obvious to anyone who has tried to read my chicken scratch.

When I went back to college in ’98, I studied writing and most writing classes have in-class writing assignments.  I know at least one syllabus required that we buy these annoyingly expensive composition books just for these assignments.  After struggling to write neat enough for the professor, I found myself barely finishing before the class ended and of course, the comments by the prof usually praised my style and cursed my penmanship.  That, coupled with the sensation of someone driving nails through my metacarpals drove me to look for a technological solution.  Finally, I bought a laptop and a portable printer and a bag the size of an encyclopedia salesman’s sample kit.  In 1998, laptops were not the tiny featherweight slates that populate first class on airplanes these days.  No, laptops were were the size of your average family Bible and weighed about as much not including the power supply brick (which bore a startling resemblance in size and shape to its namesake).  The printer I had was not much smaller than the average desktop printer.  The only thing that made it portable was the fact that it had a battery.  A heavy battery.  That lasted about an hour.  It wasn’t WiFi, it wasn’t Bluetooth, heck, it wasn’t even USB.  It had a parallel cable!

I came to class and started looking for a power outlet (since back then, a laptop was lucky to get two hours use on a charge and I had to make it last all day).  I found one not too far from where I usually sat.  Ever notice how just changing a seat makes everyone act weird?  I opened my huge carrying case and began untangling cords and plugging in my equipment.  Once, I had the laptop opened and booted on my desk and the printer set up on the vacant desk next to me, I was ready to begin and I still had about two minutes before the class was supposed to start.  I looked around and everyone was staring at me.  The professor came over with the furtiveness of someone pointing out my fly was open and asked about my setup.  “I’m ready for today’s writing prompt,” I announced.

“You know you have to turn it in at the end of class, don’t you?  I can’t give you time to go to the computer lab to print it out.”

I patted the printer next to me like a race car driver stroking his formula funny car.  “I’ve got that taken care of,” I replied.

I not only finished my paper with time to spare, I had enough time to almost totally revise it before printing it for the prof.  She was more than satisfied with the results of my setup and didn’t mind my using it for the rest of the term.  I have used it in every class from then on.  In fact, several other students began pulling out laptops in class.  Today, in my classes, EVERY student has one, and for the few that may not, the university has several computers in every classroom.
Handwriting is a dying art.  I have heard many people lament the decline of penmanship, while others clamor for a faster demise, stating that technology has made the ink pen obsolete.  I remember sitting in a classroom decorated with a running border along the walls illustrating the proper way to form cursive letters trying to make the lower case letters touch the dotted line on the Big Chief notebook while keeping them all leaning the same way.  I HATED cursive writing.  It hurt my hand and it took forever.  I liked print.  I wrote a blog a couple of years ago when I started my graduate studies about having to write a paragraph in order to take the GRE.  Handwriting is painful and slow.  But then again, isn’t said that one must suffer for one’s art?  The love letter, the sympathy note, and the thank you note are all examples of the best uses of handwriting.  Sometimes its not what you say, but how you say it that matters.  Suffer through script to share sentiment, but for everything else, ticka ticka ticka I say.

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