My Quill Pen

My Blackberry Curves

Image by Ho0n via Flickr

As I was reading Steven Johnson’s Invention Of Air, I became fascinated with the art of letter writing that existed during the time Steven chronicles in that book (mid 18th century to early 19th century). The legendary conversation conducted by Adams and Jefferson in their final years was conducted entirely via letters sent back and forth. And, of course, they were written with a quill pen.

The other day, as we were walking thru one museum (I can’t recall which right now), my daughter Emily saw an antique ink fountain for a quill pen and said ‘I love these things, I want one". I guess she shares a fondness with me for the long gone art of writing with ink on paper.

Yesterday’s post, Bits Of Destruction, generated quite a few comments and many of you were surprised that I could compose such a long post on my blackberry. To one such comment, I replied that my blackberry is "my quill pen". I was only half joking. Though I like to write on a computer and mostly do, I really enjoy writing on my blackberry.

For the past several days, I’ve been getting up before everyone else (as usual – but at 8 or 9 am instead of 5am), going to the gym, and then getting a cup of coffee in the hotel lobby and posting with my blackberry.

I’m quite happy with the result. I’ve written longer and more thoughtful posts this week than has been normal and they’ve tackled a variety of subjects.

I don’t really know why writing on a blackberry brings out this side of me but it does. It could be the lack of distraction (hard to multi-task on a blackberry), it could be that I can’t link out so I don’t bother to be referential, or it could be something else entirely.

All I know is I feel very comfortable writing with blackberry in hand. Its my quill pen.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. fredwilson

    That’s a good point although I’ve owned about ten different blackberries over the years. So its the blackberry experience more than an individual device I suspect

  2. fredwilson

    Is the medium the creation device or the consumption device or both and everything in between?

    1. Detlef Cordes

      Its both and everything in between but always in a different way. Your medium of creation forms the way you create, as you pointed out.My medium of consumption forms the way I consume. If I receive your post in the form of a printout I might use a textmarker and work with it in a different way than with e.g. a laptop and cut and paste.If there is something wrong in between, a cable is cut off or a connection slow, I might not read your post at all.

  3. shareme

    Fred, its the combination o flack of distractions but also boiling it down to the basic tools of writing inspiration.In my neck of the woods we had two writers, Studs Terkel and Kurt I think both passed away. and both kept some basic writing tools around not because they could write faster on them but because of the inspiration factor as those tools of forgotten writing technology held fond memories that they could recall for inspiration.But recently, there was another writer that passed away. a sports writer by the name of Terry Armour. who wrote about the Chicago Bulls championship seasons and later was a radio broadcaster and passed away before his time. In later years he wrote entertainment stories for one of th e Chicagoo papers using his blackberry.That blackberry of his held so many memories. Interviews with Tony Curtis, here is a recent audio interview with Tony Curtis on his radio show:…I would imagine your blackberry holds so many good memories tthat is unavoidable getting more inspiration from that blackberry.

  4. fredwilson

    Cool. I need a kindle so I can read stuff like this on vacation as they are recommended to me. Sounds like a good read. Thanks

    1. s

      you wouldnt be able to buy anything on that kindle in germany….the radio does not work there.

  5. fredwilson

    Yes, I agree. What’s interesting, then, is that the ‘medium’ is no longer static and uniform for everyone. Its dynamic and custom

    1. Detlef Cordes

      Adams new exactly what Jefferson would receive. Now more and more aspects of the message emancipate from it’s creator. What does that mean for the creator?

  6. Detlef Cordes

    As McLuhan put it: “The medium is the message.” And the medium coins the message. Mostly not for better or for worse, but for doing things in a different way.

  7. fredwilson

    If the various forms of distribution, presentation, and consumption create metadata that is recorded and contributed back to the creator, this new medium creates a lot of useful feedback and encouragement for the creator

    1. Detlef Cordes

      I agree. This “If” seems to be an unsolved problem presently – with lots of creative and business opportunities.

  8. k1v1n

    Interesting post. You might enjoy Andy Clark’s new book: Supersize the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (2008). He basically argues that our thinking extends out into the world through the tools we use, and that they play an active role in cognition. I’m thinking you’d find it of interest for business reasons as well.

  9. fredwilson

    Great thought. Thanks for sharing it!

  10. Rob Long

    Due to my total inability to resist Apple’s marketing, I bought an iPhone last summer — I love it, of course — but I miss the wonderful, tactile sense of writing something that I used to have with the Blackberry. Somehow, that physical action of thumbing out the keys just felt like writing to me, and like you, Fred, I could compose long emails without really thinking about it. I got myself out of the way of the writing process — removed a little of the writing friction between thought and word — and maybe that’s why your recent posts via Blackberry have been so thoughtful and spontaneous….It’s the curse of the writer’s temperament: you start to become a pen freak.Another thought: a lot of us in the media business seem to take it for granted that people have always wanted to sit at home, after the workday is done, and watch something, get told a story. A lot of us (in Hollywood, anyway) tend to think this is some kind of natural human activity. But before movies and TV, for hundreds of years, people sat around at night and wrote letters, played music together, talked idly, played games — they “connected” in a bunch of ways, both formal and casual. They didn’t go to the theater every night. They just….hung out in a loosely structured way. I sometimes think of that when I see what people are doing now at night, online: emailing, IM’ing, online games, Guitar Hero — what are these, really, but the same basic stuff they used to do in all of those Jane Austen novels? Writing letters, playing music, chatting, bridge, etc.?So I guess what I mean is: maybe things aren’t changing. Maybe they’re changing back.

  11. fredwilson

    I guess that makes me feel a bit better about not having one on this tripbut that¹s something amazon should fixA big part of the appeal of the kindle to me is just in time book purchasing

  12. Terry Heaton

    I’ve found the same thing, Fred. For me, it’s two things. One, my Blackberry is such a personal and private device that I get wrapped up in its intimacy, and that brings out all my thoughts. Two, it’s like making notes to myself, instead of writing for an audience, and that, I think, makes a difference.I do it so much that I’m actually having brain spasms with my laptop, because the punctuation isn’t where it “should” be.

    1. fredwilson

      Its good to know I¹m not alone in this one

  13. awatterson

    I type slower on the berry than on the laptop, so it also has the added advantage of making me choose my words and focus more on what I am typing. Keeps what I am writing more concise and on point. Two important features of good writing.

  14. Scott

    My macbook and wordpress admin panel have become my quill pen; still, though, I love the feeling of writing–which is why I asked for some Moleskine notebooks this x-mas… Some things just feel right 🙂

  15. jonsteinberg

    Nice piece. After reading the first few sentences, I thought you were going to argue that the online discussions are the second coming of the art and intensity of letter-writing that existed in the 19th century. I think we’ve returned to a culture of literacy because of technologies like the one I’m using right now…

    1. fredwilson

      I was going there but stopped because we had a busy day planned. You’ve fast forwarded to my next post

  16. johndodds

    It’s just down to being on this side of the Atlantic.

  17. Rex Hammock

    These day, I find that I’m “living” in Evernotes as my thinking/scribling/note-taking is multimedia and multiplatform. I’d estimate that 99% of the words I write are with a keyboard. However, my favorite personal (as in, just for me) medium is a moleskine and fountain pen. Yes, FOUNTAIN pen. A few years ago, I was walking with a client down F Street in Washington DC and he said, “You’ve got to go into this store with me.” It was a fountain pen store called Fahrney’s. For kicks, I tried out a few of the pens priced over $500. For someone who has never used any writing instrument that didn’t come from a package of 20, I was astounded with how the balanced weight of the pen and the subtle flow of the ink created a unique tactile experience that added gravity to the experience or writing. While I haven’t become a pen “collector” and haven’t spent any “big bucks” on a fountain pen yet, I do have three wonderful pens that I write the “special stuff” with. So, in an almost non-metaphoric way, a fountain pen is my quill.

    1. fredwilson


  18. Jon Knight

    As long as you keep writing, and keep publishing, I’m happy to be content and read.I, too, used to have a pen fetish ( and a paper type fetish and when I was VERY young, even a location fetish). Without MY pen, I simply could not write. Gradually, the message of the words became more important to me than the method, and I finally was able to write anywhere, on anything, at any time.Then I noticed that my writing sucked.I went shopping for a pen – a cheap Parker like the one I used in my late teens. I don’t use it, mind you… but it’s right – over – there ->.

  19. D. C. Toedt

    When posting with your Blackberry, do you email the text to your secret Typepad address? Or do you use the Typepad Web interface and the Blackberry browser? Or is there some third option?Is there anything special about how you insert links?Which Blackberry model do you use?

    1. fredwilson

      I use a curve and use the email posting service. I’ve tried the mobile web interface but I like email better. It feels more ‘native’ on the blackberryI don’t embed links when I post via bberry. I try to go back and add them later

  20. Jon Michael Miles

    I am waiting for someone to release a book entirely composed on a blackberry.

    1. Dan Blank

      You may want to read this piece from the New Yorker on novels being written on cell phones:

  21. Dan Blank

    Great point about how you can focus on a single task when composing on a Blackberry – I too tend to multitask when on a full computer. Great post, and the comments are just fascinating to read on this one!

  22. sippey

    I love the posts you write from your Blackberry — they have a different tone, and are well-thought out “letters” to your readers. And now this post is making me want to try a BB again — I love my iPhone, but it really doesn’t cut it for long stretches of typing…

    1. fredwilson

      If carriers would let us run the phones we love on whatever networks we want, it would make more sense to have two phones one for composing (blackberry) and one for consuming (iphone)

      1. sippey

        Absolutely. Anil keeps arguing that the right mobile combo is the Curve + an iPod Touch…

  23. fredwilson

    He’s right. I might glue them together! 🙂

  24. Brian Paul

    “I don’t really know why writing on a blackberry brings out this side of me but it does. It could be the lack of distraction (hard to multi-task on a blackberry), it could be that I can’t link out so I don’t bother to be referential, or it could be something else entirely.”As someone who spends double-digit hours per day at the keyboard, the speed at which I type is considerable. This creates a very fast thought to medium cycle. I can get it all down, and quickly. This does not lend itself to considered writing. Be that prose, editorial, or correspondence, It’s just too easy to ‘dash something off.’If I am careful to edit viciously I can still produce something of an order of magnitude or more higher in quality.If I sit down with pen and paper I have to slow down a bit and I find that I spend more time early in the process. Thus, less editing is necessary. Forgoing editing, I still have a better outcome.Do you think that the extra time it takes you to work with the smaller keyboard on your blackberry gives you more opportunity to construct your writing?

  25. JK Wen

    Personally, I think going the complete opposite direction also makes for an interesting writing frame of mind. See Debbie Weil’s post on writing with a fountain pen.

  26. pauljacobson

    This idea of a personal digital device becoming a “quill pen” really appeals to me. I have this sense of an advanced device taking the place of old world devices and yet being able to retain that sense of meaning and purpose. I don’t know that devices are “there” yet but we’re getting close.