Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Mighty Pen

The other day I noticed a ballpoint pen laying in the gutter. It had been run over by a car and one end of the plastic housing was shattered. The cap was nowhere to be seen. This once mighty pen had been reduced to a piece of forgotten, worthless, and unappreciated trash. You could probably purchase a bag
with a dozen of these pens for a couple of dollars at Walmart. However, this pen gave me pause to think about our attitudes and how we approach our modern times. I think people, for the most part, take the technology in the world around them for granted. They just expect it to be there, but they give no thanks in return. They feel that they are entitled to it just because of the age in which we all live. There is no appreciation, no awe, no wonder.

Just 50 years ago, the ballpoint pen was not in our vocabulary. 100 years ago it was only considered as some futuristic dream. However, this humble, broken, and forgotten ballpoint pen had gone through a very long journey to get to where it ended up. A journey that tells so much about man. The long and involved manufacturing process shows just what a clever and industrious and smart species we are. It's absolutely amazing to think of just how much work went into this making this object.

1). Making the ink in a modern industrial plant.
2). Forming the metal parts with casts and dies in a mass-production assembly line.
3). Extracting the raw materials from the Earth to form and process the tungsten-carbide balls.
4). Molding the plastic parts via extrusion and injection-molding techniques in a modern manufacturing facility.
5). Assembly of the components and filling of the ink.
6). Adding decorative labels and designs via computer-controlled machines.
7). Packing and shipping of the pens to the retail outlets.

These pens were formed from parts made in a number of super high-tech factories after extracting the oil-based products from deep in the Earth to make the plastic components and after extracting the metals from underground mines and forming the precise alloys. The number of people who operate the oil rigs, the refineries, the mines, the factories, and the retail stores is too many to count. All to make the humble, broken, and forgotten ballpoint pen.

The fact that we can hold this seemingly simple object in our hands and not appreciate all of this history says much about who we are. Much about the times that we live in. Much about us as people. All at once it reveals the greatness of humans and their faults. Indeed, the pen is mightier than the sword.