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On overvaluing office supplies

Pens!

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a great loss: someone walked off with my pen. As you can imagine, I was bereft for about 10 days, wandering the universe, unable to write on a lark. Couldn’t fill in paperwork. Couldn’t sign things for players or scouts or anybody. I was, in short, totally dependent on the pen-providing skills of others.

Now, this wasn’t just any pen, of course: my chrome bullet space pen. With the bold weight, blue ink refill.

I could defend my pen choice, sort of. (It fits in my wallet! The bold ink compensates for my weak, cramped handwriting! Merlin Mann told everyone to buy one years ago!)

But of course it’s just a stupid pen.  You’d be shocked at how infrequently I’m asked to write in space, or upside down, or underwater, or through butter.  While I don’t care at all what kind of paper, or sticky note, or index card, or paper clip, is available . . . I do like that pen.

ProfHacker has a whole series of posts with the tongue-in-cheek name “[X things] I can’t live without,” in which we try to offer up gadgets or tools or apps that are in some sense genuinely useful.

Office supplies, though, also take on the qualities of a totem or fetish*: we like them so much that we begin to think they’re more important than they are.  Since the choice of office supplies is usually something we can exercise absolute control over, and since we make that choice over and over again, we often start to invest it with meaning.

This is different from so-called productivity pr0n, which involves fiddling so much with your tools and systems that you never get anything done.  Instead, it’s more like a lucky rabbit’s foot–a little prop that gets you through your day. Worthless in itself, but through time and obsessiveness, somehow indispensable.

In the end, everything worked out for my pen.  I remembered who had it, he returned it promptly, and all was right with the world.

But enough about my stupid pen.  What’s your office supply fetish?

*(The first draft of this post involved the phrase “office supply fetishes” in the title, but I wasn’t crazy about the kind of of search traffic or Twitter spambots that would elicit.)

Photo by Flickr user Mr. Bill / Creative Commons licensed

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