Discuss irony in An Ode to the User-Friendly Pencil by Bonnie Laing. Thanks

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An Ode to the User-friendly Pencil is a comical and humorously ironic look at the seemingly uncompetitive, whilst competitive, nature of the pencil versus computer debate - not that there is a debate!

Bonnie Laing uses a conversational style to discuss the merits of the pencil and its unlikely rival, the computer. The first irony relates to a well-known phenomena - the need to spend money to make money :

...spending $3000 on a piece of molded plastic was going to make me wealthier.

The irony is confounded only by her disbelief but she also acknowledges that the lure of making more money "got to me."

The personification of the computer reveals an irony that every person who has ever used a computer can relate to. The computer develops a mind of its own and "the more I wrestled with my microchips" reminds the reader of the irony that a computer only operate according to what a person inputs - despite our protestations to the contrary.

The reference to the pencil as an "old friend" reinforces the sarcastic tone  (sarcasm being a form of irony)of this essay but, human nature being what it is, it is genuinely acceptable to revert to one of Canada's most "natural resources - wood" and, at the same time, even make a contribution to the economy and employment!  The contribution of the pencil to the economy makes a person laugh as it seems quite ridiculous - which is what irony is all about.

Making unrealistic comparisons also emphasizes Laing's sarcasm. Learning to master a pencil hardly equips a person - especially a two year old, with skills comensurate with those learnt on a computer!

The reader is by now hooked on reading this essay to its conclusion as it is clear to the reader that computer problems are obviously universal, not due to the stupidity of the current operator as 

 after four hours of creative endeavour, "The - - - - pencil ate my story!"

would NEVER be heard....not so the lament regarding the computer.

 Satire, another form of irony, is used throughout as this essay ridicules man's attempt to almost conquer the computer. The fact that " very few people suffer the nagging doubt that their intelligence is below that of a pencil" reminds the reader of the hours of frustrations that he or she has undoubtedly spent trying to master the computer device, often having to resort to the help of an expert if there is to be any chance of a resolution....no such problems with the pencil!

Laing's recognition of the faults of the humble pencil also add to the reality of the situation trying to persuade the reader that there is real truth in her words and the endless possibilities of the pencil.  



teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This essay, though perhaps a bit dated now in terms of the technology it discusses (for example, computers generally do not cost $3,000 today, and we tend not to use the term "word processing"), remains timeless in the issue it raises: how beneficial computer technology actually is.

The essay is ironic in that it pokes fun at inflated claims about computers. The author takes aims at such jargon as "user-friendly" by extolling all the "user-friendly" features of the much simpler technology of the pencil. The pencil, the author contends, offers many of the same advantages as the computer without the downsides, such as high cost or confusing breakdowns that lead to long repair times. 

By pointing to the many accomplishments of people who wrote before the computer, such as Chaucer or Dickens, the author deflates claims that technology is necessary for human endeavors. Ironically, all you really need to produce great writing is not a computer, but merely a quill pen—or a pencil—and your own inventive mind.