Let’s Restore Civility In Pendom

Note: This was edited on 2015-02-15.

While writing about civility, I described internet trolls with words that were anything but civil. Those words undermined the intended message of the post and should have never been written. I’ve edited the post to remove the negativity and name calling and I’m sorry. -Brad

I’ve been in a number of communities during my years on the internet but none so accepting and friendly as the community of pen enthusiasts.

Ah, the penfolk, champions of the pen, embracers of ink, purveyors of paper. We grasp our pens and hold them high in protest of a world claiming digital as the new way of life. But yet even as we’re deep in the good fight, some in our midst are spreading a darkness over our community.

Let’s travel back to in time to the year 2007. We’re in the bedroom of a third floor apartment staring at a man digging through boxes of stuff he probably should have thrown away. From one of those boxes he retrieves a Parker Vector fountain pen. He bought that pen years earlier at a local supermarket because it looked neat and it’s about to send him down a rabbit hole.

He finds a package of Parker Quink cartridges and manages to get the pen working. Something deep inside of him awakens, he feels the urge to learn about fountain pens. Luckily it was 2007 and he had the internet at his disposal.

That guy was me but you already knew that right?

I remember finding Fountain Pen Network and being amazed that there were so many people still using fountain pens. Not just dabbling like I was, these were full blown collectors and enthusiasts. As someone with a tendency to latch on to strange hobbies, this sucked me in deeper. The first thing I noticed: everyone was extremely nice.

I’ve spent most of my life since my early teens in the car enthusiast world. This is a hobby that has no shortage of bickering and drama. No matter how you modify your car, someone out there thinks you’re doing it wrong and they won’t hesitate to start a flame war with you online. In 2007 I was waist deep in that drama and FPN was a welcome escape.

In the fountain pen world, it’s not uncommon to find someone with a collection of Montblanc fountain pens praising a much cheaper pen. Penfolk just like pens that write well, price be damned. This sets our little group apart, we just love pens and ink and paper and we want to use as many different types and brands as we can.

You’d think a group of enthusiasts who are so open that they’d place a $2 pen next to a $1200 one might be incredibly civil and for the most part they are. But while most of us are enjoying our hobby and watching it grow, there are a few bad apples who are spoiling the fun for some of us.

There are a few prominent bloggers and video reviewers that I think every fountain pen enthusiast knows. I’m talking about Brad Dowdy, Ana Reinert, Ed Jelley, Matt Armstrong, Stephen B.R.E. Brown, and Azizah Asgarali. There are plenty more but I feel like these folks are specifically front and center when someone tries to enter this hobby. They spend their time writing great reviews, taking amazing pictures, or shooting and editing video simply because they love pens.

So we have a number of great people who are pouring their time and efforts into our hobby and who shows up? Yup, the internet trolls.

They seem harmless if you’re not on the receiving end. “Just ignore them” we say, but it’s not that simple. Why does Matt need to deal with constant comments about his lack of hair? Why does anyone need to complain about Stephen and Azizah’s on-air chemistry? Why waste the energy to type a negative comment in the first place?

Surely you’re familiar with the saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I like to imagine most of the penfolk follow this rule but there’s a select few of you who don’t and it’s time you learned.

I believe the good penfolk outnumber the trolls so I’m calling on all the good folks of our community to counteract them. Whether it be a nice comment or an admonishment of theirs, help us run these rabble-rousers out of our town. The worst we can do is to say nothing.

The next time you watch a YouTube review or read a blog post and you see someone acting rudely, counteract it with a kind comment and make it clear you don’t support such negativity. I may be giving them too much credit but I think they’ll get the message.

Be nice. Be civil. And most of all, call out those who aren’t. The internet is a cesspool but that doesn’t mean our little pond needs to be polluted.