Tuesday, February 16, 2016

“Go buy some pencils”

Siegfried N. Lodwig, a retired professor of chemistry and mathematics, argues for the simplest tool of thought:

The fundamental technology of the pencil is as useful today as it was in the year of its invention, 1662. No, I’m not a Luddite. I just want to urge that we teach students to use a hammer to drive a nail. A pile driver is not the correct tool to drive a nail. Go buy some pencils for your students.
Lodwig’s thinking make me think of my own antipathy to the word-processor as a tool for writing. I stand by what I wrote in 2011: “I consider a word-processing window a hostile workplace.” Writing is not word-processing. There are better tools for putting words together.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

[Difficult to say that the pencil was invented in 1662. But Wikipedia says that “the first attempt to manufacture graphite sticks from powdered graphite was in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1662.”]

comments: 8

The Crow said...

Two things I like about a word-processor are spell-checking and editing.

Okay, three: ease of formatting.

Four: the blinking cursor, that reminds me to keep writing, keeps me on task.

What I dislike: spell check doesn't catch redundancies or homophones; too damned easy to click away an entire piece of work with a misplace click; the blinking cursor that doesn't understand about daydreaming and scene development in your head.

On top of all that, most importantly to me, is the mind-body disconnect from creating words: the pleasure of mark-making, of drawing the words; of following the ideas as they flow from your mind, brain, through your body, down your arm onto the paper; the auditory delight of words being born on paper, the almost imperceptible sound of pencil-point or pen as it makes those marks; the feel of the instrument in your hand.

I can't 'see' myself in the words on the paper printed out by machine the way I can on a piece of paper bearing my marks. Writing by hand captures more than the marks I make. Re-reading something I've written in my hand, long afterwards, opens a door in memory that typeface infrequently does, recalling place, time, the person to whom I'd written, the mood of the day, of the moment. (Of course, that depends greatly on what was written.)

Both forms of writing have their valuable features as well as aggravating shortcomings. The important thing is to write...and to write as well as one can.

My grandson cannot write well, physically. He is autistic and has reached the limit of his ability to draw letters. He uses his computer keyboard to write wonderful letters (notes, really; he lacks the patience for anything more than two- or three-sentence paragraphs), which I am very pleased to receive. However, the ones I treasure most contain a very few sentences in his own hand, because I know the difficulty he had in executing them. He expresses himself extremely well verbally and in his artwork; writing is a struggle for him without the word-processor.

Michael Leddy said...

With disabilities, the keyboard can be a godsend. Elaine’s mom knew that — she was a very early adopter.

I love the ease of editing at the keyboard, but with a text-editor, not a word-processor. (Just a bare-bones box for writing.) To me, there’s a real difference between creating a document and writing. To each, her or his or their own. :)

The Crow said...

I reckon I didn't know the difference between a word-processor and text-editor, since the software I use (MS Office) seems to do both at the same time.

I think, too, that I wasn't clear about my feelings with regard to handwriting versus using the keyboard: the former is an art, something I can't seem to get back to anymore, and miss; the latter, a necessity - especially with the growing loss of feeling in my fingers.

I have a cigar box full of old pencils and eraserless stubs that I've collected over the years, most of them mine, as indicated by teeth marks along the shaft. There are a couple of very good, German-made, handheld sharpeners in the box as well, plus lots of graphite dust and bits of wood shavings. Opening that box, inhaling the odors, does for me what eating madeleines did for Proust.

Michael Leddy said...

I thought you were eloquent about handwriting. I think in my comment I was just trying to say that I’m not a Luddite either. I like writing at the keyboard, just not with Microsoft Word. Here’s an example of a text-editor for Mac (Mac is all I know these days): WriteRoom. There are many similar apps, for Mac and for Windows, some free, some not, some with a full-screen, some with a simple window in which to write (like the Windows app Notepad). No ribbons, no toolbars, which to my mind makes a big difference. But for anything of any length, I always start on paper (or index cards).

When I look at handwritten work by my earlier self, it makes me stop and think, especially when I see the neatness to which I no longer aspire. My daughter and I recently realized how similar our notebooks from college are — line after line of ultra-neat writing, hers cursive, mine printed. Go figure!

Sean said...

Gunther's contributions at the end of the following post are quite illuminating regarding the "first" pencil-makers:


Michael Leddy said...

I was tempted to leave 1662 . . . out. The Wikipedia sources don’t inspire confidence. But at least it’s clear from Gunther’s sources that Friedrich Staedtler was making pencils in 1662, sometime after the Big Bang. :)

The Crow said...

One of those handheld sharpeners in that cigar box is a Staedtler - the best ever!

Michael Leddy said...

I have a little sharpener from schooldays — still works!