It was mid-way through the Massachusetts bar exam when a sharp pain shot up and down my hand. I looked up at the clock and realized I was only in the third hour of an eight hour exam, the most important exam I’ll ever take. Panic quickly set in. I looked down and noticed a deep red bruise where my pen had been resting. The past few hours had been spent furiously attempting to scribble as much law, exceptions, and exceptions to exception, as possible into those intimidating and aggravating blue books (we all passed in dozens when they called time). The callus, solidified through years of handwritten toil in elementary, middle, and high school, had eroded, leaving behind vulnerable, baby-soft skin in its place.
Let’s face it: handwriting is an obvious casualty of the digital age. Good riddance, right? Sometimes I couldn’t even read my handwriting, let alone have my high school teachers use their cryptography skills on my papers. The youth of this generation often learn to type before they learn to write and high school students are choosing between Dvorak and QWERTY instead of cursive and printing. Throughout law school my professors gave our class the opportunity to take final exams on the computer. One classmate decided to write in a blue book and it seemed as if he was penalized for his aversion to typing exams.
I posit that Millenials and Generation Xers have undoubtedly lost the creative process that is furthered by writing out their thoughts. I gave a presentation in front of a group of MIT Sloan Business School students a couple weeks ago, and they thanked me for speaking by giving me a beautiful pen. I threw the pen in my bag and went about my life, wondering why I was receiving such an antiquated writing device as a gift. I was half-expecting a flash drive!
This evening, as I flew over the lights of Atlantic City on my way to Philadelphia from Boston, I dug the pen box out of my bag. I took the pen out of its holder, felt its weight, and immediately decided to start writing. Since college, the only times I can remember writing are on birthday cards and my bar exam, so you can imagine my surprise when I instinctively took out a pad in my backpack and started on a fresh page.
It is incredibly easy to bury ourselves in our work as we type away at a furious pace and keep our eyes glued to the screen. It is even easier to lose original, focused thought when using a computer to express yourself. I find myself distracted by TechCrunch, Hacker News, CNN.com, ESPN.com, Twitter searches, and email all day. The daily bombardment of information is an incredible advantage, but the internet has created an almost insurmountable force of distraction.
I spent the last thirty minutes of the flight writing out my goals for 2011, my todo list, and action items for the week. I stepped off the plane with a clear head and a relaxed mind. It felt liberating to write again, even though a small area on my middle finger became irritated even before I was finished. Maybe I’ll work on that callus after all.