The keyboard is out and the touch screen is in!
Ever since the Sumerian cuneiform (and most probably long before), the pen, in some form or other, has been a preferred tool of communication: portable, reliable, and fitting perfectly into our opposable thumb grip. But in recent times, the pen has met fierce competition, first by the typewriter, then by the computer keyboard and now by touch screens. As with other tales of technological progress, the history of writing is one long account of skills turning obsolete: Rune carving, illumination, calligraphy, joined-up writing, touch typing (using ten digits). And now the ubiquitous QWERTY keyboard is being replaced with a touch sensitive glass slate!
As the world is turning digital, the handmade scribbles are relegated from all areas of importance. My high-school son and daughter are doing their math assignments in Word (!), fiddling endlessly with the Equation Editor. And they have long ago abandoned handwritten letters in favour of emails, texting and social media updates. In fact, a handwritten message to anyone but yourself is a rare item. And soon we might forget how to hand draw legibly and expressive at all.
But maybe it is too early to retire our faithful companion just yet. The Livescribe smartpen seeks to bridge the brave new digital world and the lost realm of personal scribbles. Using special dotted paper and an embedded infrared camera the pen stores your strokes in a digital image format. It still falls short of making the transition to printed text seemlessly, but with a little improvement in pattern recognition and a couple of nifty software applications to expand the usability, I will gladly push aside the mirror-bright slate and pick up my trusty smartpen in a firm grip.