Friday, March 10, 2006

Long-distance Pen

Margaret Atwood is certainly a clever woman. Check out her idea for a long-distance pen (brought to you by LiveScience: The Science of Fiction):
Margaret Atwood has fans on five continents; those book signing tours must be exhausting. Not content to merely write science fiction, she has created a device she calls a LongPen, which allows her to meet and sign books for her fans all over the world from her own home. And in doing so, she has brought into being the telautograph/telephot combination, about which Hugo Gernsback dreamed almost one hundred years ago.

The fan sits down at a desk at a bookstore near his home, and presents his book. He can greet the author via the Internet video chat setup. The author sits in the comfort of her home and greets her fans, signing the book via the Internet-connected LongPen. Once the author has decided what to write, she writes it out on a touchpad.

The LongPen makes use of an old-fashioned pen for the signing; it faithfully reproduces the author's comments and signature on the fan's book.

My first reaction to this was, "Well that defeats the purpose of a book signing, doesn't it? You don't really meet the author." But then after thinking about it for a while, I decided that my reaction was altogether wrong. Sure you meet the author. She's looking at you, talking to you, asking you questions about your experience with the book. Then she writes a note to you reflecting what you've said, like "Gook luck on your own writing career, Jeb." That's pretty neat, especially for a writer who is getting old or otherwise has trouble traveling. In fact, I think it's great.

Think of all the other uses for the pen, such as your personal doctor writing a prescription for you while you're on a long-distance vacation, or a group of distant family members signing documents for a will, and so on. What makes it so unique is that the "pen" can print on any document, even a bound one. You can't do that with a fax machine. Neat stuff.