Copying materials for the classroom used to be cumbersome. In the beginning was the Banda, which some of us are way too young to remember, with its purple pigment, lingering sweet smell and print that faded fast in summer sunshine. Then came photocopiers, which started modestly but evolved to have more intelligence than NASA needed to send men to the moon.
Digital scanners came next, copying pages and uploading them to the computer, allowing any number of copies to be printed off. Editing was the initial snag with this technology, which produced an image file on the computer rather than useable text. So putting a page together from several sources needed that old standby - scissors and sellotape.
The breakthrough came with optical character recognition (OCR), with which modern desktop scanners convert images of text to words that can be edited in a word-processor - giving teachers creative freedom without the sharp edges.
The latest development is the handheld scanner, which first appeared in the 1990s but, with neither hardware nor software adequate then, disappeared just as quickly.
It's different now. Handheld scanners come with OCR installed - and they work.
Sleek, streamlined and only five inches long, the C-Pen that Swedish manufacturer C Technologies sent TESS to test is accurate enough for teachers preparing lesson materials, students swotting for an exam or working on a dissertation, or writers researching a story.
Speeds of 100 words captured in a few seconds can be achieved with a little practice, by scanning the device smoothly along a line at a time. At higher speeds there can be slight loss of precision - "D" for "O", for instance - but overall accuracy is impressive and generates the kind of confidence that lets new technology users relax, releasing their brains for higher thinking.
With something of the shape and feel of a broad marker pen, the little scanner captures text - to whatever word-processor or text-editor is open on the computer - from books, documents, newspapers or magazines - pretty much anything with print, in fact, except a computer screen.
A small but growing list of apps provides extra functions that include text-to-speech (EUR15), a nine-language dictionary (EUR29) and a control pad (free) that gives keyboard capabilities.
Education is a key market, says C Technologies, so more apps in that area are likely to appear in the near future. The company is keen to encourage their creation and will provide the source application interface free.
The latest C-Pen - the 3.5 - costs from #163;99+VAT. The earlier model 3.0, with a similar spec but no wireless capability, is also available at #163;79+VAT.