The Death of Paper and Pen

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A couple of weeks ago, we went to our local Science Center and view the exhibit “Lost Egypt.” Aside from the real mummies, there were also very interesting artifacts found in there. I was more absorbed with the hieroglyphics on the catacomb walls, as they built model of those walls in the exhibit. I felt like Indiana Jones trying to interpret these ancient writings. There was also a replica of the Rosetta Stone, a stone tablet with carved writings on it in ancient Egyptian and Greek language. The original stone tablet was believed to have been carved in 196 B.C., and was discovered in 1799 by French soldiers who were rebuilding a fort in Egypt in a small town of Rosetta.

These artifacts just proved that men had been writing for a long long time. It is debatable where the earliest writings originated, as some experts say it was from Mesopotamia, but others claim it was from Egypt. Well, if you consider the cave drawings, which are pre-historic paintings on the cave’s walls and ceilings, and the oldest of which was found in Chauvet, in France, then you would surmise that even cavemen scribbled on walls. I wondered if the caveman’s mother scolded her son or daughter when he or she drew on their home wall.

With the invention of paper, believed to be introduced by the Chinese around 100 B.C., and introduction of pens out of feathers or wood sticks, the earliest use of which was believed to be in ancient India, writing had evolved to the current practice as we know it today, using the universal paper and pens. It is interesting that even astronauts used special antigravity-pens (Fisher space pens) and paper in their space missions.

Dead Sea scrolls, written about 200 B.C. to 68 A.D.

We learned to write with pencils or pens and paper even before we entered Kindergarten, and maybe also scrawled with crayons on our bedroom’s walls, much to the dismay of our parents. Since then we composed our first essay in elementary, drafted a book report in highschool, and wrote love letters in college, all using pen and paper. When we finished our studies, we received a fancy paper signed with a fancy pen and with our school’s seal, as a testament that we graduated. And if you are working now, you sign with a pen a piece of paper (I mean bank checks, but it could be your “listahan ng utang” at Aling Nena’s sari-sari store too) to pay your bills. Paper and pens are so omnipresent in our society and are so integral to our daily living that we may not be able to do things without it. Or can we?

Last week I underwent two days of computer training. No, I’m not switching career, it was just a part of the changing practice of medicine. The hospital system where I practice is launching the use of full electronic medical records in all their hospitals. That means no more paper charts and records everywhere in our hospitals. All orders, all doctors’ progress notes, all nurses’ notes, and all patients’ history, physical exam findings, vitals, labs, and ancillary data need to be entered into the computer.

The good thing is that our outpatient clinic where I am a part of, has been using electronic medical records entirely for the past 3 years now, so I am somewhat accustomed to the digital records. And now the hospital is adapting this change too, which is I believe is the way of the future. I know some doctors (I could be one of them) don’t like it at all. It’s like teaching an old dog a new trick (no, I’m not calling my colleagues dogs). But resistance to this change is futile.

What this means is no more hand writing for me. It’s going to be all typing, mouse clicking or computer pad writing for me. Every hospital room is equipped with a computer terminal, and I would be lugging, aside from my stethoscope, a computer tablet wherever and whenever I examine patients. I wonder what would I do to all the pens I have. Don’t worry mine are just cheap ones, and not like the expensive collectible pens that some friends I know, have. Or maybe someday, pens will be antiquated that they all will be collectible artifacts, so I might as well keep mine.

I also believe that it’s not just the practice of medicine that is going electronic or digital. Perhaps in more other professions than I realize. And honestly, when was the last time you sent a hand-written letter? Is this the death of the era of paper and pens?

With the advent of computer and digital age, and with the current social networks that we have, it is quite funny that we came back full circle to the Stone Age. We are again writing on walls (of Facebook, that is) and inscribing on tablets.


  1. May schools na daw dito sa US na Ipad na lang ang dala-dala ng mga bata. Ang books ay naka load na sa Ipad nila. Siguro ang homework at quizzes nila ay online na lang.

    Tayong Pinoy ay may sarili din daw na pagsusulat noong araw bago pa dumating mga dayuhan sa ating bansa…baybayin ang tawag at nagsusulat sila noon sa mga kawayan(inuukit).

    Malamang si Aling Nena pagdating ng araw ay sa tablet na rin naglilista ng kanyang pautang…hehe.

  2. one of my wishes is to see all hospitals in manila, okay including all medical facilities in the provinces, observing paperless charting one day. (dream on, kailan kaya yun, doc? wala ngang libreng gamot sa lahat ng ospital, massive computerization pa kaya?) but dream do come true, right? haha!

    who would ever taught that from writing on papyrus centuries ago we would live in an age where everything is almost at a flicker of a finger?

    1. Who knows, maybe the Philippines hospital system will catch on sooner or later. By the way, I have a feeling your students have laptops when they come to class. Do they even carry a paper notebook anymore?

  3. It’s amazing how everything is in digital and computerized nowadays, from charting to blogging. But I think the pen and paper will exist as long as man has a dream and has a passion for history and all that is man made. Somebody told me that iPad is replacing textbooks in some school. I thought, “for real!” Personally, I like making notes, and other markings when I study. It becomes a personal trademark of remembering things. I don’t think an iPad could do that, not what my book looks like at least after a major exams. Great post. Inspiring indeed!

    1. Yes, I have heard that too that students don’t have to lug on heavy books but nowadays carry laptops and tablets for their text and for note-taking. I for one, was not a very good note-taker anyway, when I was a student. I survived by photocopying the notes of my classmates. But I like to draw and doodle on my paper notebook. 🙂

  4. When I was in school, we used to have penmanship classes that lasted 20 minutes each day. Perhaps I may be dating myself, huh? I studied in a school where we could be easily identified by our handwriting. The school mandated that we write in a distinct cursive style. Needless to say, it was one of my lowest grades. What can I say? I was a rebel, an artist, an individualist maybe? Sigh!

    Nowadays, we will not likely find too many people with the beautiful handwritings of days past. The need has long passed.

    I started traveling as a child and over the years, my mother had instilled the value of keeping in touch with people while traveling through postcards. To this day, I still send postcards whenever I travel. People tell me they look forward to them. It’s like a hug coming in the mail to them. Now, my daughter, who often gets itchy feet, sends postcards from everywhere she’s been. I have kept all of them! It’s a dying art.

    1. Good for you that you still send postcards with personal handwritten message on them. You are right, it is a dying art.

      I admit though, I still love to receive a handwritten letter, even if the handwriting is less than beautiful. But an electronically sent message, like your comment on this blog is also very much appreciated. Thanks. 🙂

  5. The good thing with Electronic Medical Record is that a doctor can now bring all of his patient’s chart anywhere and everywhere and can access them anytime thru Ipad or laptop (as long as the broadband is working). When a nurse call the doctor for some kind of problem regarding his patient, after talking to the nurse, he can evaluate the problem more by looking at his patient’s data or record anywhere (as long as his Ipad or laptop is with him) and can make a medical order anytime while away without even talking to the nurse. Physician can also make rounds then, leave if in a hurry and do his/her progress notes later in the convenience of his clinic or home. Great innovation indeed. The scary part is maintaining one’s privacy. With EMR all of the person’s medical or surgical record including either mine or yours is there. But in my opinion, I still think pen and papers will be around in our lifetime. (so someone can sign an autograph =)) Nice post… thanks.

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