Of Pens and Pains

Of Pens and Pains

The miracle of Internet shopping has forever altered our lives, making everything from out-of-print books to the hottest designer item of the season accessible with the push of a button. This convenience comes at a cost of increasingly mindless consumption.

The ease with which we accumulate unnecessary things has morphed into a stealthy but strong addiction to instant gratification. Last month I sought a lucky charm, in the form of the "perfect" disposable pen, which would compel me to write every day. I went online and searched for a soft, wide-tipped ballpoint pen, and ordered a dozen from a brand that I had used and trusted. They performed exactly as expected, but I mistakenly ordered them in black. My preference is to write in blue. Since the pens were too cheap to return, I just went back online and ordered a dozen blue ones. I was not disappointed when they arrived. As the box promised, I held the world's smoothest pen in my hand.

All was well with the pen search until later that week. I used a narrow tip roller pen in a restaurant and felt like I had found the holy grail. It was amazing. I immediately had to rectify the situation with my existing writing implements. I ran home and ordered the exact same pens as from the eatery. As soon as they arrived, I used them all the time, but somehow I had misgivings about the narrow tip. Could there be something better? Perhaps I would love a roller pen with a wider tip even more. Genius! So I went back online. A dozen more roller pens with a wider tip arrived two days later. Much to my chagrin, these proved not to be smooth at all. I was finally foiled. Now I have four dozens of pens, and will only use a fraction of them. It is a perverse waste of money, not to mention packaging. 

We are so accustomed to the ease of Internet shopping that it has become trite and thoughtless. At all hours of the day, we click and 'add to cart' without having to supply our details, make eye contact, or connect with a fellow human being. We no longer need to plan our trip to the store, make a list to avoid forgetting an item, or recruit a friend to go with us. No doubt, the expediency is staggering. Buying online has improved our lives in many instances, but it has removed the deliciousness of anticipation, the shopping experience in a public place, and the human interaction. As I sat alone at my desk with my 48 pens, I was struck that the instant gratification of shopping online is a cheap escapism akin to playing games on your smart phone.

I had in fact been playing mind games with myself, chasing a piece of fiction that promised salvation to my conundrum of lacking the discipline to write on a daily basis. I have stopped buying pens but I have not yet found the way to the page each day. The discomfort of confronting myself about not writing daily and how to make me do so is not dissipated by the facile distraction of online shopping. However, the simple act of buying pens was a powerful salve. We all attempt to self soothe when we stare at our screens, scanning for the next needless item to buy. Let's start to break this habit by resisting the urge to push the button.

Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.

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