Five years ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a bold prediction.
When asked what technology will become obsolete by 2025, after some quick thought he said, “the fountain pen.”
With the onset of typewriters, followed by word processors, smartphones, Alexa and Siri, Nadella’s answer made sense. When all written communication is digital, how could the pen survive?
When I heard Nadella’s prediction, I had mixed feelings.
As someone who cannot read their own handwriting, the death of the pen had some appeal. Maybe it’s my lack of small motor skills or maybe it’s just habit. But after years of typing everything from meeting notes to computer code to proposals, writing more than a few sentences by hand feels inefficient and even uncomfortable. And for me, it’s illegible.
But there’s a nostalgic side of me that hates to see the pen dry up. My pen of choice in the late 1970s was the Erasermate. A technological wonder in its time, this was the first pen to feature erasable ink, allowing you to erase a mistake and try again, just like a pencil. This nifty invention got me through countless quizzes, tests and research papers from fifth grade on. Seeing it go the way of the 8-track or Atari would be a shame.
As an IT consultant, my goal is always to make work more efficient. My job is to help companies leverage technology to increase productivity and profits. Needless to say, in all these years I have never recommended that a client buy fewer computers and more pens. In fact, the stated goal of many of our clients is to become paperless (and by definition pen-less) with 100% of their operations done digitally.
So, it surprised me when I ran across a statistic in my stuck-at-home-pandemic-mindless-browsing that the pen market is not only alive and well, but actually growing. The market for old-school pens has continued to grow and is now over a $20 billion industry. As it turns out, despite the dominance of everything digital we all see firsthand, Nadella’s prediction was not only wrong, but the opposite has occurred.
This got me thinking about our assumptions about technology. We have been trained to think newer is better. But if the goal of tech is to make us more efficient, it really shouldn’t matter whether a specific technical product is new or old. All that matters is that it is the right fit for the intended user.
We see examples all the time of older technologies that still have their place. The early versions of Microsoft Excel and Word work just as well as the newest versions for 99% of us. For many, a vinyl record player is both cheaper and better sounding than a subscription to Spotify or iTunes. Many find a paper book more cost-effective and enjoyable than a Kindle.
A basic pen may not stack up with a computer in a battle of features. With no spellcheck or Copy and Paste, a pen is at a disadvantage against a computer. Yet writing by hand with a pen is more personal. Our signatures and handwriting are unique to each of us, giving handwritten communication some character. It’s very efficient for notetaking, journaling or simply jotting down new ideas. And many find it inspires more creativity.
So, if you define technology as simply a tool that fits the needs of the person using it, the choices of how to optimize your day become much broader. As a computer geek who loves inventions, I had forgotten this.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Given that there are more pens than swords out there today, I tend to believe this. But when it comes to choosing your tech, new or old, all that matters is that you choose the best tool for the job.
J.J. Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville IT consulting and custom software development firm. Visit Atiba.com or AtibaNetworkServices.com for more info.