The analog-digital life

“Oh yes, a lot of pen people work in technology.”

“Really? So why do they use old pens?”

“…Balance in the Force?”


There are days it feels like I’m living from screen to screen. I answer several messages on your phone, check Instagram, hop to my laptop to clean up a few slides. Before I know it I’ve spent half my waking life absorbed in variously-lit pixels.

Butch Dalisay showed a class of young advertising people a 500 year-old book and a first generation iPhone that still worked. They seemed a little more awed by the iPhone. Perhaps because they expect specialized hardware to become obsolete faster than the printed page.

Nowadays, focus is a gift. I’ve been reminded, too frequently and too recently, to pay attention to friends around the table instead of my screen.

Fountain pens and ink and paper help me stay in the room and not wander off in chase of ephemeral pixels. Sometimes, so does doodling with a Pencil on an iPad. Both have physical feedback. A tiny brain interprets information from sensors, commits lines and splashes of color through Bluetooth. A bigger brain interprets information from the senses, and expects freshly-written words to shine wetly on a page.

I wear two watches: analog on the left, iWatch on the right. Both tell time, one tells nothing but time, the other displays what goes on most of the time, neither makes more time.

This jacket uses Japanese fabric from the Meiji era (1868-1912). The shoes are 3D-knit from fiber spun from water bottles. Both have been recovered: one from its own century, the other from polluting the sea. Both are ways of mending the world.

YStudio emblazons, truthfully, “the weight of words” on its boxes, both invitation and warning to those used to plastic-bodied pens. Not all writing has weight, but we want to feel something, don’t we? Metal outlasts frailer celluloid and ebonite, and feels more present in the hand. We don’t want to feel disconnected from our bodies. Weight reminds us of the space we occupy.

Nostalgia cycles faster nowadays, or is it just me? Was it only last year that we were enamored of the cloud and the infinity of images and words we could hoard, to call upon only when fitfully remembered? Mechanical keyboards, unlike printed photos, don’t originate from hazy fondness, but physical need. (Doesn’t your right thumb feel cranky after scrolling through multiple feeds?) I expect printing and typing might soon be replaced by voice and narration on demand. But not too soon, I hope. Touching is believing.

It is a peculiar kind of balance, but many of us are drawn to it, and have our own explanations. I see this ongoing attempt most clearly in my notes. Paper by 53, paper by Tomoe River.

I don’t see us eschewing one over the other, going extremely digital or extremely analog. Each has their virtue and vice, their place in the world we’re trying to make better. How’s your balancing act coming along?

  • pharaonis

    Love everything you say here. When I first got into fountain pens I was so confused by the way that a ton of people seemed to be vehemently anti-technology. “Printed page over anything else! Death to screens!” Scrolling past their diatribes (funny how I had to read that on the internet, isn’t it?), I had to wonder if they’re worried that they’ll be left behind as the digital takes over.

    To me, there’s plenty of room for things like fountain pens, handwriting, good paper in the same world as tablets, smartphones, the app that keeps you motivated. I love writing letters, but laughing over dumb jokes at 2 am because we have instant messaging has a special place in my heart. Writing journal entries by hand is wonderful, but if I had to write an essay like that I’d have dropped out of school and become a hermit long ago. There’s no reason that the digital and the physical can’t exist together. I would say that they should.

  • Erik K. Fritz

    Beautifully composed, both texts and images. This has a very poetic movement and rhythm and focus. And “touching is believing.” I’m pretty sure I’m stealing that. Thank you for this.

  • Matt Smith

    This got me right in my inky heart. Here’s to the thing-ness of pens, paper, ink, and the rest. My iPad is a thing, but the images and words it displays don’t have thing-ness, even if I made them. It’s why I always start with paper.

  • Justin Garofoli

    Hi Leigh, nice post. Also, what is that Seiko, it’s very nice. 🙂

  • Adam Rodman

    I make my living as a writer. When I know what I am doing, a keyboard and screen are great, but when I need to think, when I need to figure something out, when I am worrying through the structure of a story or a character issue is bothering me, I turn to a pad and a fountain pen. I find real value in slowing down. It strikes me that I write differently when the thoughts in my head are ahead of what my fingers are doing.

  • Tchign-lean Chay

    Hello Leighreyes,
    i am really impress by the Bolique holder,Could you tell me where do you buy it please?

  • leighpod

    It’s a Seiko Spirit. 🙂

  • Wells Baum

    Like you, I toggle back and forth. But there are advantages to this: I get into different thinking zones. Starting analogue and then writing digital and then taking that (aka copy-pasting) rough draft into another app makes you perceive it differently. Perhaps analogue to digital is a process.