Are Pencils Obsolete?

Looking back at the Technology we Leave Behind

A few months ago, after unwrapping the shiny new iPad and Apple Pencil that had been calling my name for so long, I began the quick transition to digital illustration. As a result, my pencil and sketchbook sat forgotten on a shelf, waiting patiently for their turn to capture a moment of inspiration. Wanting a break from the screen, I decided to set down the iPad and reconnect with my first love. Wiping a thin layer of dust from the cover, I cracked open my book and began bringing my ideas to life. After making a mistake, I was taken aback by my knee-jerk reaction. Instead of flipping my pencil to use the eraser, I attempted to hit a non-existent undo button. Pretty embarrassing after only a few months; but on a different note, how in the world did I get here so quickly?

This personal blunder captures the essence of our digital age, where technology evolves at a rate faster than many can handle. The affordances of innovative products are numerous, promising to make our lives more convenient if we trade in our current technology for the newest model. However, I can’t help but think that complete abandonment of the old comes at a great cost. Even the pencil, as common and ubiquitous as it is, tells a critical story. The New York Times article “Inside One of Americas Last Pencil Factories” by Sam Anderson and Christopher Payne poetically captured the pencil’s irreplaceable personality:

“In an era of infinite screens, the humble pencil feels revolutionarily direct: It does exactly what it does, when it does it, right in front of you… They preserve the secret origins of objects we tend to take for granted. They show us the pride and connection of the humans who make those objects, as well as a mode of manufacturing that is itself disappearing in favor of automation. Like a pencil, these photos trace motions that may someday be gone.”

Photo by Christopher Payne

In my experience, certain functions of new technologies like the Apple Pencil have led me to value convenience over authenticity. Instead of streamlining my pencil strokes and masking my artistic shortcomings, the rudimentary wooden pencil forces me to directly confront them. Sharpened down to half its original length, it has been with me long enough to have suffered anxious bite marks from my first SAT. Tattered and worn, this personal artifact documents my stories both on paper and in its structure.

These emotional and authentic elements are integral to every piece of the creative process, no matter how small. Innovation is essential, but instead of completely replacing the old ways, I think we should encourage their existence in tandem. There is so much to be learned by bringing the two together. If only for nostalgia’s sake, try reconnecting with tools you have retired. You never know what it could inspire.


Referenced Article:

Illustration & Text by Taylor Marrow

Posted by: Taylor Marrow

Posted in: Blog.

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