A checklist draped over a shopping cart or a moleskin notebook scribbled with one’s schedule for the month seem like modern-day anachronisms, given the fact that in the digital eon, a virtual platform exists for all such purposes: the tangible papery feel of your to-do lists has been replaced with an app, albeit it cannot emulate the fleeting yet immaculate satisfaction of smugly ticking things off with a ballpoint pen. Why do we purchase stationery articles that we do not even really need? Is it their neat aesthetic appeal? Or is it the sensation of possessing control over our lives, conjured by the intricate leather-bound planners and appointment books?
Stationery has evolved past the bland paradigms of office essentials; they are now symbolic of the seemingly innocuous indulgences and are motifs of untainted bliss, plush with the potential of novel creations. The marketplaces are teeming with the increasingly personalized and vibrant-hued pencil cases, voluminous writing pads, animal-shaped erasers to annihilate our mistakes, shatterproof rulers, minimalistic ring-binders, and an array of other articles: luxurious and tempting enough to hoard, but they also make for a rational and indispensable purchase, for they beckon orderliness.
Perhaps, the charm of stationery does not solely reside in the object but in the throbbing anticipation of a new beginning and the boundless oasis of possibilities that it bears; a seamless, milk-tinted page is an inchoate poem, and a spiraled notebook is a reservoir of boardroom-conquering ideas, or a loose-leaf exercise book represents a relentless pursuit of sheer perfectionism: first penciling in the draft of an essay and then meticulously rewriting it with a pen.
Stationery is tactile: it is a theatre for our everyday musings; it is a catalyst for creativity and catharsis and endows us with a chance to accessorize, perhaps, with a fashionable gel pen or a trove of color-coordinated Post-It notes. A paper planner is devoid of the boisterous and invasive distraction that the din of a notification from a smartphone calendar might cause. It offers the gratification of crossing out finished chores and encircling eventful days: it is delightfully palpable. It provides a stark juxtaposition to its digital alternative’s distant and detached orientation.
For a stationery connoisseur, a trip to a shop spilling with the stocks of patterned notebooks with rounded corners, agile page-holders, and aisles stocked with flamboyant felt-tip pens, vivid sketchbooks, and stylish paper-clip holders is a dreamy rendezvous with their innermost desire: to observe, covet and finally, collect these souvenirs, either as an addition to their office supplies or more often than not, to their virtuous, ever-burgeoning stash of benign indulgences. The gnawing compulsion to possess the bejeweled staplers or the sleek yellow HB pencils that you had serendipitously discovered inside a cluttered crevice of a stationery shop is unassailable.
Scholarly research on the significance of the cuteness that compels shoppers to impulsively purchase a miscellany of products has sought to dissect the dimensions of kindchenschema (baby schema, introduced by Konrad Lorenz), which entails vulnerable-seeming, infantile attributes such as fragility, large eyes, harmlessness and rounded cheeks that elicit a feeling of protectiveness and garner attention. When inanimate objects, for instance, oblong erasers with fluttering eyelashes, are anthropomorphized and burnished with these features, they acquire a distinguishable, reassuring, and loveable quality. The cuteness aesthetic elicits warmth and showcases a trace of neediness or a touching gullibility in the consumerist milieu. Another facet that induces a vehement consumer response is the whimsical and fantastical facet of a stationery item; for instance, a cute, doe-eyed pen-holder could charm the customer and activate self-rewarding consumer behavior.
Kawaii, the Japanese subculture of cuteness, is artfully situated at the convergence of adolescent and commercial lure and thus, is a charismatic mechanism of visual merchandising. It possesses an overall aesthetic that is replete with nostalgic paradigms of childlike handwriting, overwhelmingly pink schoolbags, cartoon-studded office supplies, and Hello Kitty-themed stationery articles. The worldwide appeal of the Kawaii-themed merchandise, anime, and manga (graphic novels) further strengthens Lorenz’s observations about kindchenschema. Kawaii totems have become a way of expressing individuality, and they seek to invoke the uncorrupted swathes of childhood innocence and exhibit an attempt to clutch onto the ephemeral youth, devoid of the soulless realities and responsibilities of being a grownup.
While peering at the shelves piled with the fascinating arrangements of numerous stationeries, one cannot help but visualize a need for them. The pristinely disarming aura of cute stationery nudges one to impulsively buy heaps of the adorable panda-shaped thumbtacks, vanilla-scented bullet journals, or blank map books. There is no equally rewarding substitute for jotting down the keywords on index cards with colored pens, subdividing them theme-wise, and cautiously underlining them with a neon highlighter; it requires even more precision than the task of actually revising the material.
The utilitarian value of stationeries is intertwined with its aesthetic magnetism. Even in the epoch of incessant technological advancement, stationery items resiliently retain their simplistic allure and act as both the muses and agents of our creativity.
Author: Ria Chakraborty
[Political Science; Lady Shri Ram College for Women; Literary Reviewer]
Illustration: TDLM Design Team