For Old Fashioned Pencil and Paper


School is starting back up and with that comes stealth texting from cell phones, hidden behind back packs, behind propped up text books on desks, and even more creatively, hidden in the lap folds of some of the baggier fashions.  The students think the teachers are unaware.  Some teachers are simply tolerant and don’t have a desire to collect every cell phone in use at a given moment (which is enough to fill up a drawer).  The irony is that students are mostly texting other students who are sitting a few yards from them in the same room.  Texting is practically the only known form of communication for human beings between the ages of nine and twenty nine.  Email and instant messaging is so yesterday.

We used to call it “passing notes”.  This generation just doesn’t know what it is missing. Instead of a quick text between two phones, it took a village of cooperating students to successfully pass a note.  This brings new meaning to “group project” before it became the only way to get students working together in an enlightened learning environment.

Part of the challenge of passing notes was to write on the largest piece of ripped off notebook paper possible, but still be able to “palm” it, and pass it imperceptibly, often across a room, without the teacher being aware.  An intercepted note meant it would be read aloud in class so content had to be carefully coded, very much like today’s text messages that are full of abbreviations and uninterpretable jargon.

One memorable day in 8th grade science, I and my friend who sat diagonally from me clear across the classroom passed a folded half sheet of notebook paper over a dozen times through six intermediaries.  True, it was during a filmstrip projector presentation on volcanoes, so we had the cover of darkness to assist us.  It was still an achievement.  I suspect Mr. Duffy simply ignored us but knew what was going on the whole time.

What was so important that we had to communicate secretly during class?  Beats me.  It seemed like the thrill of being found out was as much a motivation as the need to write something entertaining or enthralling.  In fact, one of my goals was to try to make my friend laugh out loud, which she rarely did, and when she did, she would make it sound like a snort or sneeze, to avoid further teacher scrutiny.  My cover was a hiccup.

Notes were important communication devices between classes too. Stuffing a note in a crack in a desk that a friend would occupy during the next class period was an effective means of staying in touch.  Writing on the desk surface was far riskier, and certainly not private, but employed when necessary.  There were sometimes passionate love notes left on desktops in pen and pencil. It resulted in after school soap and water duty.

Now that I’m part of the “texting” crowd, via my Blackberry,  I text sometimes while in meetings when I should be paying strict attention to what is going on.  My “excuse” is that as a doctor to college students, I’ve found they are sometimes more likely to tell me their greatest concerns via text rather than in person, so I see it as part of the “job”.

So I regretfully must bid farewell to pencil and paper.  It was sweet knowing you.  And if you ever hear me stifle a hiccup, you’ll know someone just sent me something that made me laugh and I needed to dive for cover.

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