What's the difference between a groundhog and an eagle?
They both live underground except for the eagle.
A good joke that is appropriate for this topic. Why do we use these things? Fountain pens and mechanical watches should be a thing of the past. But they are not, actually they are doing well.
Many years ago I think Bill Gates's dream was an office without any paper or pen. A vision that is far-fetched even today when we have all the gadgets around. We have computers and laptops, on which you can type a lot faster than you can write by hand, the letters are more legible, it is not user specific. You can easily edit papers, search documents, it is incredible. Now we have high-performance phones that are up to 1000 $. You have it on you all the time so you can type some memos, notes, reminders, to do lists, you can even use speech recognition to talk to your phone.
A few years back most people thought that stationery shops where a thing of the past, and it will not take long until they will disappear.
Well, what happened? They are still around, you can find them all over town, in malls, online.
Maybe it is because sometimes freehand writing is more convenient, you are not limited by a word editing software, you have the ability to do quick sketches, representations, graphs and so more. So this explains partially the existence of pen and paper in an office.
But coming back to my initial question, why do we keep using fountain pens and why are they so similar to mechanical watches?
For me, it's more of a newly discovered hobby. I was not a fan of fountain pens in school, I used one from the 1st to the 4th grade, because it was mandatory. Ballpoints or pencils were not allowed.
My first fountain pen and second (I think I had 2, because the first one cracked) were Wingsung's Parker copies. They were green, that I can remember, and had a gold cap (not made out of real gold of course).
I stopped using them after the fourth grade and didn't look back until in recent times.
So why people still use fountain pens? They have a lot of disadvantages. To name some of them:
Most of the ink is not waterproof, and smudges. I agree there are inks that are water resistant but are expensive, and not widely available (I only found in one of the local shops)
It is very affected by light (again there are more permanent inks but as well they are expensive and difficult to procure)
The ink is wet, and on cheaper paper, it can bleed on the other side, or it can feather. On the opposite side on glossy paper, it needs a longer period to dry and there is the risk of smudging it. Because of drying time, it is difficult to be a left-handed person and write with a fountain pen. Not all pens and inks will work.
Most pens hold small amounts of ink, and this means many refills, which sometimes can be a dirty job. You need to carry with you backup pens or cartridges in case you run out of ink. There are options like eyedroppers that hold very large amounts of ink, but then you risk blurping ink. Why does this happen? Because you have too much ink inside, or better said, too much air when you use up the ink. So the solution is refilling it constantly and not letting the ink levels go under 1/2 or 1/3. This defeats the purpose of the eyedropper fountain pen.
Dealing with ink is most of the time messy, and you will have ink on your hands, clothes, and furniture if you are the really lucky one. Sometimes pens leak, sometimes you are not careful enough when refilling it, or you do not clean it thoroughly after filling it.
Nibs are fragile things, too much pressure, dropping the fountain pen uncapped can mean that you are going to buy a new fountain pen.
Even though fountain pens are premium products in most cases and have an accordingly high price they are far from perfect. Most of the times the nib is not aligned as it should and you have to mess with it to get the best writing experience.
In many situations, they are a thing of the past. There are better options there that overcome most of the problems of fountain pens. Ballpoints have come a long way and good refills write consistent, with very little pressure (there are heavier ballpoints that write under there own pressure), they last a long time, you don't need to worry about refilling it every day or every week. You can just have them laying around, you do not need to worry about them drying out. Most of the ballpoints inks are considerably less affected by water and sun.
You have mechanical pencils. They do not offer the opportunity of getting messy, they write consistently, you have various lead sizes and grades. It is very easy to refill and a refill pack is minuscule. They can last a lifetime as well as the writing. The effect of the sun is almost inexistent. There are rollers, gel pens, and many other writing instruments.
Why don't we ditch the fountain pen for good?
In my opinion, it is for the same reason mechanical watches are still around us and prosper.
Why would you buy a mechanical watch that is not as accurate as a quartz one, it has far fewer features, and any simple feature (like a chronograph) costs a lot more money. From a quartz watch you can get accurate time, smaller price tag, solar charging, batteries that last 10 years, time synchronization with an atomic clock, multiple alarms, timers, countdown timer, time zones, GPS, barometric pressure, automatic time zones, illumination, ruggedness and much much more.
I think it is because the fountain pen like the mechanical watch is a thing of beauty. It does not need to be cheap, simple, easy to live with. It fulfills the need for the old-fashioned way of doing things. They are classy a thing of beauty that you can pass on, even in this age of consumerism. They are a dependent way of getting the job done that was proved over many years. It is the way to connect with our roots. It is the way to regain the love for doing things "by hand" and the love for analog.