Welcome back SF Writers, to the third episode of the Mad Inventions Series, or M.I.S. for short, a place to generate ideas for your SF stories based on our technological developments. Today we briefly look at the relationship between pen and technology.

The story so far:
Intro; Digital Wallets; House Technology.

That was a hell of a letter, Mr Darcy!

The act of writing per se has always been very powerful. Hearts have been broken, empires crushed, friendships ended and all because of written words. The  concept that the “pen is mightier than the sword” means just that: a piece of writing can hurt you and it’s there to remind you of it – at least with the sword, when you’re dead, you’re dead.

Let’s take a closer look at the medium itself. The pen has come a long way, from pointed shards of rock to sticks, feathers, nibs and all the way to our modern, more familiar tools.

There is a serious relationship between a pen and its owner. A good pen, especially the kind you can refill, stays with you throughout your life. No matter how much typing I do at a computer, I always like to keep a paper backup. I have a pen, nothing fancy, which has been with me throughout high school and university, used only for tests and exams. It was a bit like a Linus blanket and, even now that academic tests are over, it’s still in my pen case.

Most writers reading this article will know how choosy we can be when it comes to picking a new pen for our writing. We enter the stationery shop with the same excitement as that of a kid stepping into a candy store. We look over the colourful pen display until we see it. Then we hold it to check if it has the right thickness, if the ball is small or big enough, if the ink flows smoothly, if it’s rough against the paper; in a word, if it inspires us and makes us want to write! It’s that powerful.

How has technology developed the pen so far?

We have had ones with ink-erasers for a few decades now. Ink colours have increased in variety and quality, and the duration of the ink itself has improved too, allowing some pens to even last a few years. The major development is the one that brought us the digital pen. The devices that make use of this capture your handwriting or brushstrokes and convert them into digital data for use in different applications. Think about drawing tablets and how far they have pushed the boundaries of painting; or even a shopping list on a piece of paper suddenly appearing on your computer or mobile phone.

In 2004 Jian Wang of Microsoft created a Magic Pen, a device capable of switching effortlessly between electronic documents and paper. Unlike the digital pen, this one uses actual ink: you write on a piece of paper and the data is automatically transferred onto the screen on an editable document. Years of trial and error created a pen which contains a digital camera activated by a pressure sensor; the tiny images of the ink are stored in a memory chip and then transmitted to the computer via a Bluetooth radio.

Another interesting device is the 3D Pen. It uses the technology of a 3D printer and allows you to literally draw in mid-air. The heated plastic comes out as ink would, cooling down with the cold air and allowing you to build your drawings upright. As you can see from the picture below, you have quite a range of creations that can be brought to life, from sculptures to useful everyday items.

Korean Designer Jinsun Park came up with Color Picker, a pen that scans the colours you really like on one end and send the correct RGB details into the body of the pen. From here, the ink is mixed appropriately and is released at the other end, allowing you to obtain the tone you want.

There have been pens on the market with little extras such as voice and writing recorders (if you are a student taking notes during a lecture you know how helpful these can be). Some pens carry scanners that can read written words and act as dictionaries or editors via a display window. Technically though, these are not really pens, but pen-like objects.

How has pen technology affected our stories then?

  1. Have you ever featured a pen device in any of your stories and, if not, can you think of one piece of writing that could accommodate this?
  2. Try to come up with another step in the evolution of pen development. How can it advance the plot of your story?
  3. Envisage a society where the act of writing is superseded by typing: what advantages could there be?
  4. Now imagine the same society and analyse the impact a lack of writing skills would have.
  5. Consider the role of those who can still write, compared to those who cannot, and the ramifications of this in every aspect of life.

And, if you come up with a great idea … write it down!