Power of pen

Have you ever been caught without a pen? (No computer or other recording device either). I’m not talking about when you’re taking a test or filling out an application and you can ask the person next to you. I mean when you literally have no means to write.

Maybe you’re outside, see something interesting and want to write it down, maybe you want to remember something, you could be reading something and you want to take notes. Maybe you’re on an airplane or a train and want to journal your thoughts.

I’ve felt completely de-powered in these situations. In the luckier instances, I’ve resorted to using eyeliner, highlighters or anything I got my hands on, which could make marks I could hopefully read in the future–or at least, express myself in the moment. In these situations I’ve always felt surprised. Surprised at extent I’m distressed by my lack of ability to record.

What does writing mean to you?  How do you use the skill? To me it’s expressing my thoughts, a way for me to think “out-loud,” a way to sort things out, clear my mind, learn, communicate with others and myself, remember, keep records, schedule and manage my time, state opinions, respond to others, ask questions, create, etc. And then there’s reading, which especially with internet access, is access to knowledge.

In the U.S. and around the world,  millions cannot read and write. While there are many other ways to express oneself– think art, dance, talking, etc–not all are as peaceful and productive as having the ability to get ones thoughts out in writing. Think violence, vocal outbursts, etc.

In Afghanistan around 28 percent of the population is literate—out of women, only 12.6 percent. I just watched part of a Frontline piece about the U.S. operation there and in Pakistan. How would it be different if those people in villages in Afghanistan were blogging and reading online? Many likely have TVs, but it is not the same kind of power to actively seek and choose information and there is no feedback. No means to inject one’s own experiences and opinions.Increase cultural exchange, increase cross-cultural understanding….

 How many people around the world of all ages have some kind of online expression, whether a blog, twitter, Facebook, even professional communication sites such as linkedin.  Writing online, reading online, news online, inter-human connections online. People who cannot read and write cannot participate in this.

Another question, what is the internet like for non-English speakers? What about those who speak uncommon languages. To what extent is information available in different languages (barring government censorship of sites), are translations available and usable?….If Wikipedia is any clue, the numbers are drastically different with changes in tongue. Over 3,180,000 in English, with Dutch coming in second place, (can that be possible?) with over 1,019,000.

Just some thoughts to start the day. Please contribute yours!

2 thoughts on “Power of pen

  1. Perhaps a bit late to comment, but I really like the insightful nature of this post. To those of us engaged in the intellectual sphere, illiteracy is unimaginable. The idea not only of being unable to write, but even to read–I can’t even fathom it. I think it must lead to a fairly limited understanding of the world, since your worldview would be based entirely on what you’ve experienced and what people close to you (who are most likely illiterate themselves) have told you. The prospect terrifies me, since I believe I am defined by what I read and write. But I think illiteracy is just a subset of a larger problem, what could be called “cultural marginalization.” Even those people who have rudimentary faculties in reading and writing are generally not in a position to express themselves through their writing. It’s one thing to understand simple signs, and another to be able to communicate what you feel and think. And the vast majority of people are simply disenfranchised from the dominant culture, since they have no way to communicate with it. I’m a pretty typical American college student,, so I don’t really think I have much power or influence over world affairs. I don’t write for a newspaper, work in politics, have a lot of money, or come from a famous family. Hell, I don’t even have a blog. By our standards, I don’t have that much influence. But the simple fact that I can read and understand what’s happening in the world, and use writing to communicate my thoughts, opinions, and feelings means that I’m a hundred times more influential than some billion people in the world. You never think about that when you only compare yourself to people in your class, your city, and your country. But when you look at the world, it’s just amazing to see how ridiculously privileged we all are, and how profoundly unfair we are. With great influence comes great responsibility, I suppose, so it’s our duty (particularly as idealistic college students) to use our influence to try to rectify inequities and make the world a better place. Easier said than done 😉

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