The pen is mightier than the smartphone


Obviously this is a riff on “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and I think even many “lesser-educated” people have heard this saying. But I wonder if the “more-educated” really know where the saying comes from.

According to Wikipedia, the go-to source for persons also at the college-level, the line first appeared in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s play, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. The cardinal speaks thus: “True, This! — / Beneath the rule of men entirely great / The pen is mightier than the sword . . . .”

Clearly a smartphone is man’s best friend, like a dog sniffing out knowledge our senses cannot accomplish as quickly. I am certain that a smartphone would be very useful also in the wilderness, provided the satellites line up properly, to teach us how to make a fire, stay warm, find food (the man who died in the cold in Jack London’s “To build a Fire” sure could have used any smartphone, no quibbles or squabbles about which platform).


A smartphone could also provide entertainment out in the wild, if we just could not get into watching bears eat fish in a stream, rattlers rise up, deer feed at dusk–all the two-dimensional representations which we have gotten used to from screen safaris and that cause many of us trouble with the three-dimensional world. Add one of those extra, charged layers to your smartphone, and you can stay out in the wilderness for quite some time.

A smartphone aficionado, I am, rivaling Hemingway’s penchant for bull fights or the bravery of the matador and all that corrida business I picked up as an English major in The Sun Also Rises. By the way, my smartphone informed me via Tweet this week that a new first chapter for this novel has been found and is being issued.

I have been delaying bringing back the pen into my post, but can no longer hold off. The irony should not be lost on us that the literary works I have referred during my smartphone expedition were created by the pen, even if aided later by the typewriter.

At any given time you will find me surrounded by pens. As I look up from the screen I now see maybe forty different pens, some sitting in a kind of caddy-organizer my wife has bought for my desk, others laid out against the wooden surface which holds my technological equipment, tips pointing this way and that, and I just looked over and saw two more pens hiding at about 11 o’clock. For the record, these are my favorite working pens, 0.7 mm, fine, uni-ball Vision, blue for marking student papers and writing, red for marking texts on paper that I read, and black for signing a teaching contract or letter of recommendation.

I also have cheap pens lounging in my company, some in the caddy, but most in the three desk drawers. They have all sorts of letters on the frames of their bodies (see, I think they are alive to me, I am anthropomorphizing them as if they were likeable dogs).

Pens accompany me also on walks (never without one pen in my pocket, most of the time three, just to feel safe). I have them in my car, to sign and deposit checks, to take notes, just to have them.

Pens are the purveyors and granters of knowledge, hands-down winners in my book, even though I appear to have been stroking my smartphone mistress unduly much these past few years.

To get back to the wilderness. Forget the smartphone. If I am attacked by any animal, I will be sure to use my ink pen, the cheapest one and most metallic-pointed instrument will work (not my beloved felt-tips). I cannot see, or rather, the frightening thing is that I can visualize, me beating a bear over the head with a smartphone. The ultimate in comedy and tragedy I am sure, though unfortunately it is very possible that I will not be around to record what I have experienced with, of course, a pen.