Felix Writes: On Pens And Black Boxes

DigitalThoughts / On Pens And Black Boxes

I was arguing with a friend over the merits of computers-as-appliances and she said something very interesting: "I shouldn't need to know about the chemistry of inks in order to use a pen."

So utterly reasonable, isn't it? Discussion over?

Well, no. Not if you spent any significant amount of time (as I have) writing and drawing with various implements on various types of paper and getting annoyed as certain combinations just don't work. Normally, thinner ink is easier to write with, except some papers just suck up too much of it. I've also seen paper that was so poor-quality it was fuzzy, which ruined both nib and ballpoint tips. I've used refills that would get used up too fast, and refills where some of the ink would remain suspended in the tube, too thick to flow anymore. I've had a few dozen sheets of a paper that was simply the best surface for anything, including pencils, and I had no idea why, except "it's smooth and shiny". Couldn't find any more to buy, either, so I was saving it up. There's also paper that needs to be stacked in order to be any good. Or is this pen malfunctioning just now? I never know which is which. Of course not. Why should I? Pens just work.

Except, you know, when they don't.

Sometimes it's just too cold, or the air pressure is too low, or simply I'm laying in a hammock and the pen is upside-down.

But I can't tell, because I never learned the chemistry of inks. And that leaves me helpless when something goes wrong.

So, who cares? Pens and paper are cheap.

Computers aren't.