Writing – from the tablet to the tablet

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about life as a digital nomad, and all I generally have with me is my MacBook Air, iPhone, headphones, notepad and various chargers. My notepad is the only paper based document I carry. I write in it, with a pen or pencil. Crazy stuff.

As part of my role in creating workspace and property strategies, I spend a lot of time looking at options for businesses to reduce their dependence on paper, and ultimately free up a lot of wasted, and expensive, space. There is certainly a number of generations, and professions, that like paper and using a pen. I am one of those people. However, I feel it may be time to change.

Looking back into the history, we have come full circle from writing on tablets to e-writing on tablets. Here is a brief outline of the paths we have taken:

Writing / Writing numbers for the purpose of record keeping began long before the writing of language. It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was invented independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer – modern day Iraq) around 3200 BC and Mesoamerica around 600 BC. Put it this way, we have been writing for while.

Tablets & the stylus / In the Ancient Near East (the Middle East today), clay tablets were used as a writing medium, especially for writing in cuneiform (a system of writing first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia), throughout the Bronze Age and well into the Iron Age. Cuneiform characters were imprinted on a wet clay tablet with a stylus often made of reed.

Historically, writing and the use of clay tablets began around the time period of 3000 BC when Sumerians decided they were going to start writing. Sumerians used what is referred to as “pictograms”. Pictograms are symbols that express a picture rooting from the sound of a word. Early writing was then also seen with the ancient Egyptians’ hieroglyphs.

Paper / Paper was invented in ancient China during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and spread slowly to the west via the Silk Road. Papermaking and manufacturing in Europe was started by Moors living on the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily in the 10th century, and slowly spread to Italy and Southern France reaching Germany by 1400. The word “paper” is etymologically derived from papyros, Ancient Greek for the Cyperus papyrus plant.

Early modern tablets / After a couple of thousand years, the tablet computer and the associated special operating software saw the first examples of pen computing technology. The first patent for a system that recognized handwritten characters by analyzing the handwriting motion was granted in 1915 (100 years ago, impressive). The first publicly demonstrated system using a tablet and handwriting text recognition instead of a keyboard for working with a modern digital computer dates to 1956. Since then tablets have evolved through to the likes of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.

Fast forward to last week / Apple has recently released its latest series of hardware updates, including the first Apple Pencil, a stylus designed for technical drawing (and I guess writing too). It also revealed a larger version of its tablet computer, called the iPad Pro (Hmmm, original use of the word Pro there?). It has been described by the Apple CEO Tim Cook as “the most capable and powerful iPad ever created“. However, the only entirely new product reveal of the launch was Apple’s first stylus since the early 1990s, the Apple Pencil. The Pencil is designed to be used with the larger iPad, which is aimed at professional artists and designers.

The technology that reads the touch on the screen has been redesigned to recognize the difference between different Pencil strokes and a finger touch. The top of the Pencil contains sensors that feed information back to the tablet device, and it can be recharged via a Lightning connector – Apple’s super-speed re-jig of the standard USB connector. It will be sold separately from the iPad Pro for $99. (click here for more on the recent launch)

To finish here is a quote from Steve Jobs back in 2007 ..

“Who wants a stylus? You have to get them, and put them away, and you loose them, yuch. Nobody wants a stylus, so let’s not use a stylus. We’re going to use the best pointing device in the world. We’re going to use a pointing device that we’re all born with – we’re born with 10 of them – we’re going to use our fingers.”

Oh? Well, me, I am happy to use my fingers, and for now, keep writing with a pen and paper. Although, I reckon soon, I will be following the Sumerians lead and will be using a tablet and a stylus soon, sorry I meant an Apple Pencil.

Do you use a tablet and e-write? Will you ever return to using a pen?

Thanks for reading,


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