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Friday, July 10, 2015

Bic and Unprogress


I've been writing with a 65-year-old typewriter recently. Just twenty years ago I did all my writing on this machine. I can't believe how hard it is to press down the keys - I'm such a finger wimp.
And it's modern technology that has made me this finger wimp. Before Windows 95 (which came with the first really workable version of MS Word,) it was less bother to type and deal with the typos and double strikes than to work through the inscrutable instructions that were required to make Dos compatible documents look like a literary form of pointillism?

Reference too obscure? How about a Jackson Pollock painting?

Ant tracks through butter?
Okay to make a crappy looking printed thingy.

But technology doesn't move forward in lock-step. There were things we did better years ago than we do today. NASA sent men to the moon with computers that had less capacity than a Dollar Store calculator, 
but they couldn't repeat that feat today.
And why is Southern California turning into a desert when we had water desalination plants back in the 70s? Is it lost technology or have they been banned because they block the sea-side views of movie people?

Then there's the Bic pen. Everyone knows the Bic pen - the greatest thing to come out of France that you couldn't consume at a garden party. It's still a decent cheap pen, but it's nothing like it once was.
Back in the late 60s and into the 70s, the Bic pen was an engineering marvel. They boasted that their pens wrote "first time, every time." You never had to scribble little circles in your notebook (or on your textbook,) to get a Bic to start. If you could see any ink through the two semi-transparent tubes, you knew you could write with it. It even wrote for a while after you stopped seeing ink.
Bic used to challenge customers to use all the ink in a Bic before you lost it, cooked it with your cigarette lighter, (I don't know why we did that, but we did,) or someone took it.
Being an obedient obsessive-compulsive, I took up the challenge.

I’ve never had any abilities with art, but thankfully, the early 70s didn’t require that. I covered my notebooks, textbooks, even my bell-bottomed jeans with intricate mazes, irregular paisleys, tight concentric circles, and block figures in Bic blue, black, red, and occasionally green. I wasn’t striving for artistic effect; my goal was to use ink (and waste time.) I wasn’t the only one doing this. The ubiquity of Bic pens, and the challenge to use them up had several of my dimmer classmates doing it as well.

I managed to use up two or three which earned me a “whoa” from a fellow idiot or two, and marked indifference from the brighter members of my class.
And it made me buy more pens, which of course, was the whole point of the Bic campaign.
Today’s Bic pens look like the pens of yesteryear, but like most cheap pens, fail to write long before the ink disappears from the tube – some never write at all. I continue to buy them hoping to one day find one that will continue writing all the way to the end. Of course that requires that I buy a lot more pens.

Wait a minute – I buy a lot more pens...

Maybe Bic has moved their technology ahead after all.

In an unrelated subject, I recently found out that Mel Tillis is still alive.