Article originally appeared in the Lehigh Pocono Mensa magazine Magniloquence, issue #181, May 2005
I often reflect upon the rapidity of change that we encounter in today's world, as well as the acceleration experienced in our lives as we're faced with the torrents of information that we must quickly sort through for relevance (personal or career-related), absorb to one extent or another, often add-to, and then pass on to the next stressed-out and overloaded biocomputer in the information chain.
For those of us who regularly inhabit cyberspace, that inundation of information is most commonly and incessantly manifested by ubiquitous email, and its evil twin SPAM (I could only stand it in small measure when it came in a can, and my opinion hasn't changed much).
When I returned recently from a short, five-day vacation, logging onto the Internet brought me over 900 downloaded messages! It took the better part of a day just to separate the Triticum from the bract (this is a Mensa article). The former included customer orders, family missives and some of the jokes making the rounds. The latter was represented by multiple invitations from the son of deposed king M'runga of Nigeria to help him smuggle $50 million out of his country through my bank account -- consideration of which I had to put on the back-burner -- as I reflected upon the generously offered help in augmenting my virility, while simultaneously awaiting the next message from Pam, Bambi or Vicki, all of whom seemed inordinately interested in spending quality time with their soulmate -- ME (naively, I had always assumed that we were allowed only one each).
As a counterbalance to this type of informational overload and our increasingly frenetic lifestyles, it seems that most of us require some activity or hobby to slow us down. For some it's the release of tension brought about by intense physical activity, such as a favorite sport (table tennis in my case), a workout at the gym, or perhaps an evening spent with Pam, Bambi or Vicki.
For others, or at other times, it might be the physically passive route of TV, a movie, or sitting down with an engrossing book or a sumptuous meal. Still others find their 'downshift' through a creative pursuit such as painting, making music, throwing clay, or writing. This last activity bears on those customer order emails I mentioned, for you see -- in cyberspace -- I'm known by my superhero appellation of His Nibs and earn my daily bread (and upkeep on the palace) by selling good, old-fashioned, force-you-to-slow-down-whether-you-want-to-or-not -- fountain pens!
At first blush, offering one of the more ancient tools for writing -- as measured by a medium such as the Internet, which tends to identify anything that hasn't been upgraded in the past six months as obsolete -- would seem to be an anachronism.
My experience belies that assumption however. My customers are self-selected as technically savvy -- just by finding me on the Internet -- and in addition tend to be those most besieged by ever-changing information, be they engineers, doctors, computer scientists, judges or technical writers. All seem to share the desire to acquire a writing instrument that harkens back to a slower time, whether primarily to build a collection (there are now thousands of new models -- many created as limited editions -- as well as countless millions of vintage pens still extant), or just to experience the more organic feel of nib and ink while putting thoughts on paper, and the quieting ritual of selecting that day's pen and ink color.
In an environment of email, keyboards and voicemail, I've found many people who have taken up writing in journals and diaries -- just for the opportunity to use their pens. I don't have exact figures, but surprisingly, fountain pens have become a small growth industry in the past decade -- with prices ranging from $5 dollars to $500 thousand dollars and more (the secret: just keep adding diamonds) -- concurrently with the decline in daily opportunities to use them!
So, although I wrote this little piece longhand with a Sheaffer Legacy 2 fountain pen, a stub nib and with Private Reserve Copper Burst ink, I then dictated it into my computer using voice recognition technology in order to email it to Sallie. Ah, Brave New World. But let me now lay down my pen -- I have emails to send off to Pam, Bambi and Vicki
His Nibs, aka Norman Haase, can be found in his virtual* store at http://www.hisnibs.com/, while his weblog, http://hisnibs.blogspot.com/ often focuses on the nature of intelligence -- human and otherwise.
*Norman's accountant will confirm the virtual nature of the business!