You’re five years old, and it’s your first day in Kindergarten. Your mother holds your hand and walks you to class as you wear the book bag that she has packed with your first-day essentials: a snack, composition journals, and most important of all, pencils. As the year goes on, you learned to use these pencils for the most important activity of all, learning to write your own name. In addition to learning to write your name, you learned a few things about pencils as well which laid the foundation for some of your beliefs of the world.
Number one: They get dull
As you learned to write your name you found that after a while you would have to pause, as your pencil got too dull to write with. This began the process of having to leave your seat, walk across the room, and go to a pencil sharpener. Whether you had the luxury of an electric pencil sharpener or you simply had to use a good old manual one, you learned that it created pencil shavings, and that at the end of the sharpening process you had a pencil that was once more ready to use! This act taught us that when doing work there are naturally breaks to be taken and that you can’t continue producing at the same level all of the time as our pencil became increasingly dull the moment we began to use it again.
Number two: They have erasers
The second most important thing that you learned was how to use an eraser. It was the small pink thing at the end of the pencil that let you magically erase what you did when you messed up. Talk about a saving grace back in the day when drawing a smooth “O” was the bane of your existence! Not only did we learn that we could erase our mistakes, our teachers generally told us that we should erase our mistakes and start over from scratch.
How this translates in the modern world
The majority of people in the world solely used pencils in their formative years to begin to write. Yet I wonder how many of us think about the effect that this has potentially had on our psyches. I believe that today, with the dawn of the internet and particularly social media, we have been transitioned from the world of the pencil and brought into the world of the pen. With pens, unlike pencils, there is no need to take a break and get up to sharpen it. Pens flow constantly at the same rate that they do once you take the cap off. Additionally, pens can not erase. Once any mistake is written onto the paper you have to scratch through it and move on. There is no opportunity to wash over the mistake and start afresh. Instead, you have to face it, accept it, and move on.
The realities of writing with a pen are very much like the world that we live in with the internet and social media. With the dawn of social media there are no longer breaks in the onslaught of information that we are able to receive. Unlike the news cycle of before that forced us to wait until the next day for any new updates, we are now all inundated with information from around the world at all hours of the day. The pencil psyche did not prepare us for this.
Another reality of the modern day is that when something is posted on social media, even for a moment, it is instantly recorded and will never go away and can potentially be shared with millions which can impact someone in an extremely positive or negative way. Unlike the psyche given to us by the use of pencils, we can not erase what was done. Instead, our only options are to accept it and move on, or spin it, which inevitably still leaves the mistake in the open. With our life foundation being that we could not only could erase our mistakes but also that we were encouraged to do so, many struggle with having to face the music of their online actions.
Each day we see evidence of people getting into trouble within their professional lives over activities that they did on social channels. A recent example is of a girl from the University of Alabama who spewed hateful language on her Instagram account which can be read in further detail in the article here which resulted in her expulsion from the university. Other examples can be seen here which briefly overviews 6 others who lost their professional jobs due to their social media usage. In the pen society of today, it’s a dangerous time to be living with a pencil psyche.
So… what now?
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Wow. I never realized how using a pencil and not a pen could have affected my psyche so greatly. My parents and teachers set me up to fail from the jump! What do I do?!” For starters, your parents probably had no clue that this going to be the new way of the world so I don’t think you should call your mom to tell her that she should have packed you pens instead of pencils. What I do think however, is that the pen society of social media has created the need to teach children the new way that the world works and the permanence of their actions. Children these days will grow up not knowing a world without the internet, and a pencil childhood simply does not prepare them for the realities of a pen world. There can be serious consequences from what we do on social media and to prepare the youth of today, I propose that we stop encouraging children to simply “erase” their mistakes, but instead to recognize, acknowledge, and learn from them, as well as how to not repeat them in the future.