J.B. Blackford

Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.

Dear Pen: Tell Me How to Write

Is it possible for a piece of technology to be obsolete before it’s even released?

We should find out this fall when Lernstift unveils a pen that vibrates when you make either a grammatical or spelling error. In Calligraphy Mode, the pen will buzz to let you know that your handwriting is illegible; in Orthography Mode, a single buzz indicates a spelling mistake while a double buzz signifies that your grammar needs to be double-checked.

When I first read about the “smart” pen in a round-up of copyediting and grammar news, the first thing that came to my mind were reasons it wouldn’t work:

First, how often do we write anything by hand anymore? As schools furiously debate and haltingly implement the switch from handwriting and cursive to typing and keyboards, the pool of users for a grammatically-inclined pen seems to be shrinking rapidly. For the most part, hand-written correspondence or school assignments of any kind are a thing of the past.

Secondly, without a way beyond vibration to communicate an existing error, the pen puts the onus back on the user. To me, this isn’t a problem: I grew up in a household where I was told to “look it up” whenever I asked a question that could be answered by an encyclopedia or dictionary. Yet, to many students (and, let’s face it, often their parents) who take a lackadaisical approach to their education, this level of responsibility doesn’t jive with how much effort they actually want to invest. When I routinely grade essays submitted as Word .docs with blatantly misspelled words still showing the red squiggle underneath, I find it hard to imagine a youngster taking the time to both use this device and then search out an answer to a grammatical conundrum.

But then the language-lover in me says, Wait a minute! Couldn’t this be great?

For those of us who are still ingrained with handwriting habits, this could a wonderful asset. I know that I still write cards and letters, and almost all of my creative writing is done by hand since the computer is too impersonal a medium for me. Sometimes, in fact, I’m writing so furiously that it would be helpful to have a reminder that acquiescence has that second-to-last C that I always omit or that accommodate needs two sets of double letters.

And, although trends in education may be changing, there are still students out there who crave and enjoy learning, and parents who support that. Who knows, maybe this will be the new, big thing for the homeschooling community. Maybe using a fun piece of technology will incite young students’ interest. Maybe this will be a tool that helps rejuvenate our writing skills, especially if Lernstift follows through with the idea of developing a pen with WiFi capabilities as well as secondary apps to elaborate on grammatical corrections.

Would you or your children use the smart pen? Do you think that this could be a way to keep the importance of spelling and grammar in our sights and a part of our standards, or is this just too little too late?

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2 comments on “Dear Pen: Tell Me How to Write

  1. jasoncgerringer
    March 9, 2013

    I would never buy this pen. If abd when I write with a pen, it is for jotting down notes or ideas. I would hate to have a pen telling me I have grammar issues in my notes.

  2. JB Blackford
    March 9, 2013

    That’s how I think most people will feel about it! The only reason it could be useful for me is that sometimes I still try to do hand-written letters or other pieces when the computer just isn’t a good work medium, and a reminder can sometimes be helpful. But I’m also unsure how it would be used as a learning tool for a child, unless there’s a teacher or a parent right there to tell them what they’ve done wrong.

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2013 by in Teaching, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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