This morning, Musubi, a small Singapore-based notebook maker, published a note informing its customers about the end of the road for Cosmo Air, a type of paper popular with aficionados of fountain pens.
I am one of those, who revels in the sound, feel, and sensation of a beautiful nib laying ink as it scratches (or dances) on the paper. In this note, one paragraph stood out and summed up what makes paper so special.
Paper is an analog product, made by analog processes, and everything, from the composition of the pulp, to the water that runs through it, to the machinery that is used, has an impact on how that paper feels and writes. It’s the joy inherent to something physical, and simultaneously its Achilles heel.
Technology has taught me – change is unavoidable. Embrace it. I might miss the Cosmo Air paper, but I won’t be despondent. Something else will come along as long as I have the strength to hold a pen and the ability to write.
If you have never indulged in writing with fountain pens, or have never experienced inky fingers, then it is not too late. It will cost you less than $100, and you will experience a joy that is hard to describe.
September 26, 2022. San Francisco
Today is “the first Friday in November,” which is officially Fountain Pen Day. As we fountain pen nerds like to call it, the idea of FPD started in 2012 to celebrate fountain pens. I have often written about the benefits of writing with a pen or a pencil, but for me, nothing beats a fountain pen. If you have never had the pleasure of writing with a fountain pen, then today might be a good day to start your journey into a slow, deliberate, and organic approach to writing.
Computers have a unique way of making us writers a bit mentally lazy — indulging in a stream of consciousness writing. One doesn’t take the extra few minutes to think about what one is going to write or think about the missing pieces and how they all fit together It is, perhaps, because, we can cut, paste and modify with relative ease. We are constantly in “draft” mode and any addition and subtraction of words is nothing more than a mere act of readjustment. In comparison, writing with a fountain pen brings a different kind of rigor — forcing you to slow down, think, visualize and compose the story before committing it to paper.
There are many other benefits of writing with pens on paper. I understand, this is a dying method of writing, what with pencils and iPads. But still, experience the joy of a beautiful nib gliding on amazing quality paper, laying a beautiful blue, purple, or any other shade of fountain pen ink. I am biased towards turquoise and lavender inks. I have a fondness for handcrafted pens from Japan and lately have become a fan of Ranga Pens, an artisanal brand based in India.
Happy Fountain Pen Day!
November 5, 2021. San Francisco
I have made notes when reporting news, interviewing people, or drafting outlines for most of my life. In the early days, it was shorthand. Later, it became a weird blend of English, symbols, and old shorthand. I eventually got a tape recorder and began recording my interviews, but mostly as a backup. More often than not, I’ve kept just a reporter’s notepad, a bunch of HB pencils, and a fountain pen on my writer’s desk.
My approach has been contrary to that of most of my peers, who by now almost all take notes by typing directly on the computer. Most of them draft their pieces on the computer as well. As a non-native English speaker, I always found (and still do) that writing things down by hand, and then bringing them into the digital realm, allowed me to create better drafts.
In this age of visual communications, I do much of my work on Zoom. I find that, when used sparingly, Zoom is quite handy. It is one click to save the conversation using its internal recording features. I have it integrated with Otter.ai, which does a passable job of transcribing those conversations. Still, the recordings are just a backup to make sure I am not making any mistakes.
I still take notes in an old-fashioned notebook, even though I am no longer a reporter. I still use the old HB pencils. I love drafting my longer pieces using one of my many fountain pens. I normally use a trusted old Montblanc 149. When I am traveling, I switch to a decade-old Lamy Rollerball pen I bought in Munich.
Why do I do this? Because I find that writing before typing helps me contextualize and remember information better. I was doing some research for an essay and ended up on a website called, Drawright, which had a nice piece on why handwriting trumps typing. Here are my favorite five reasons.
1. By feeling the writing surface, holding the writing instrument, and directing precise movement with thought, you give your brain a full workout! In contrast, typing is a simple, memory-based movement. Executing keystrokes is just a repetitive movement.
2. Research shows that children who practice their handwriting have higher levels of literacy and cognitive development. This is likely because as children learn how to quickly translate mental images of letters into a physical form, they begin to understand how letters form sentences and meaning.
4. Retains knowledge: Handwriting notes (such as in a class) helps you retain knowledge more than typing on a keyboard.
5. Increases creativity: Writing and drawing by hand increases creativity because we are forced to slow down, consider the big picture, and come up with creative ideas. You use the right side of your brain!
That said, there is one thing I would argue that digital does better: spelling. I know you are theoretically supposed to get better at spelling by writing out words, but that has not been my experience. For some odd reason, as time passes, spellcheck and I seem to become increasingly good friends.
A few weeks ago, I had a chance to converse with one my heroes, (philosopher, author, and journalist) Kevin Kelly and his partner in Cool Tools, Mark Frauenfelder, part of the Boing Boing crew. They asked me about four tools I love and why. I will recount my picks, but you have to listen to the … Continue reading Omakase: The CoolTools Podcast Edition
Just as slow food is good for digestion, and thus the body, slow tech is good for the soul. Today, most of my life is digital and connected. It is not a surprise that I find joy in the time-slowing aspects of all things analog. I like to make photos with film — because it … Continue reading Nibs, Ink and Paper
Elizabeth Weil, one of Twitter’s early employees told me about her passion for letterpress and the fading art of printing. Over the years we talked often about our love for paper and pens and ink. And then a couple of years ago, I ordered some stationery from her tiny letterpress print studio, PaperWheel Press. It … Continue reading In praise of handwritten notes
Computers have a unique way of making us writers a bit mentally lazy — indulging in a stream of consciousness writing. One doesn’t take the extra few minutes to think about what one is going to write or think about the missing pieces and how they all fit together It is, perhaps, because, we can … Continue reading On writing with fountain pens
Letter from Om
A (nearly) bi-weekly dispatch about tech & future.
You will get my reporting, analysis, conversations, and curation of the essential information you need to make sense of the present future.