Tablet computers and touch screen devices have become so commonplace over the past few years that it seems as if the Star Trek vision of a paperless society is truly getting a head start. It suits me fine — I can convey a lot more information by typing it out than I could by writing it out by hand — but some people still don’t like virtual keyboards or “writing” with their fingers as they once did on paper with pens.
If you’re in the camp that yearns for the days of paper and pen and proper handwriting (did you know that some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore?), then you might dig the Livescribe Smartpen. Basically, this is a pen — an actual pen that uses actual ink (and not merely a stylus that virtually mimics the utility of a pen) — with a computer bolted on top, which allows you to write, draw, and take notes in an old-school fashion with new-fangled technology. In conjunction with a tablet, the Livescribe Smartpen can keep a habitual scribbler organized with modern world precision. This is the sort of thing that might prompt you to say “keyboards, shmeeboards!” if that’s your bag, baby.
You can even record audio to go along with your notes, which is recalled when you tap or click on the passage you were writing at the time the recording was made.
There’s special paper that’s used in conjunction with the Livescribe Smartpen that helps the user fully take advantage of its features, and it comes in a variety of formats — including grid paper, college rule notebooks, and sticky notes. If you balk at the thought of spending money on the never-ending supply of paper that you’ll need, don’t worry. You can actually print out as much Livescribe paper as you need from the privacy of your very own printer.
The principles of the Livescribe Smartpen are pretty simple, but its applications are as manifold as the imagination of its user. From the college student taking lecture notes to the teacher creating “pencast” tutorials to the author doing research for that next book to the journalist interviewing a secret source, the Livescribe Smartpen is useful to people from all walks of life.
Being able to play back such notes and tutorials on an iPad or other tablet of choice makes the Livescribe Smartpen a truly mobile enhancement for someone who likes to mix up the old, familiar — and, to some, more comfortable — ways of doing things with the benefits of the new. Just be careful not to lose it or loan it to friends who are known to unthinkingly “liberate” writing utensils!
Me? Having grown up with computers, I’ll be happy to keep typing away my thoughts as they come to me — that’s what’s comfortable to me. I freely acknowledge that what’s good for me isn’t always good for you, though. If you’re a scribbler or you know someone who’s a scribbler, then the Livescribe Smartpen might be a good gift for you or them.