Tuesday, December 4, 2012 | By: HiDee

Is Handwriting a Lost Art?

Office supply stores are one of my weaknesses. In particular, I’m drawn to the selection of pens and paper filling the shelves. If only they were unpackaged so I could try them all. The old quill pens gave me the willies, like fingernails on a chalkboard. Shudder. I don’t want to hear my pen scrawling my words. I prefer using a nice medium ball-point pen with blue ink.

There is something magical about the feel of a good pen in my hand. Words flow more easily from my pen onto paper than words I type on my computer. Maybe it’s because I type faster than I can write, and so when I’m typing, my fingers get ahead of my thoughts. Stopping to think interrupts the flow. But when I write by hand, my thoughts flow ahead, leaving my pen to follow. 

I blame my obsession with pen and paper on my dad. Throughout my childhood he fed my need to write, often giving me half-used notepads and pens he no longer favored. I tried to pass that on to my children. When they were toddlers, I gave them small notepads and pens when we traveled even short distances because it kept them occupied. Today, some of those pages with their first drawings, their first written words, are tucked into scrapbooks I cherish.

My mom has been going through storage boxes and trying to clean things out. She found mementos from our childhoods, and gave some back to each of us. Pictures from when we were babies, all the way up to more recent pictures, were identified with handwritten names and dates on the back. Handwritten school report cards. Newspaper clippings dated by hand. It was fun looking through it all. 

It was personal. I felt an emotional connection. And I fear that the emotional connection we have with things handwritten may one day be lost.

In his book titled The Missing Ink: The lost art of handwriting (and why it still matters), author Philip Hensher explores the value of handwriting. He writes, “Handwriting is what registers our individuality, and the mark which our culture has made on us. It has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls and our innermost nature. It has been regarded as a sign of our health as a society, of our intelligence, and as an object of simplicity, grace, fantasy and beauty in its own right.” 

Is Our Individuality at Stake?
If recent news articles are accurate, our individuality may be at stake. It is being reported that many states are looking at adoption of national curriculum guidelines that as of 2014 will not include cursive handwriting, but will instead require proficiency in computer keyboarding for students completing their elementary education.

The world today is filled with technology. While I acknowledge the importance of kids learning how to use it, I cringe to think of handwriting being more or less eliminated.

Handwriting, in many forms, has stood the test of time.

Caves with Stone Age drawings and symbols adorning their walls fascinate scientists who have discovered them. Handwritten historical documents found and preserved have provided a means for us to learn much about what happened in the past. Coded messages written by military personnel and sent by carrier pigeons enabled our troops to communicate with each other when other means of communication were not available. Handwriting connected people of the world

In the current age of technology, handwriting appears to be a lost art. Kids rarely color or write with pen and paper. Schools require kids to work on computers, to submit typed reports and papers. Many of the students who do write do so in print, rather than in cursive. If they can’t, or don’t, write in cursive, do they know how to read it?

Computers are at the core of many businesses. Employees are required to create documents, to communicate and share correspondence over e-mail and via the internet. Social media entices people to share life details, some of which should not be shared. Cell phones are replacing landline phones, and being carried and used by many. iPads and other tablets are becoming increasingly common tools for communication.

Has Technology Created a Monster?
All of this technology fuels impatience in people. Technology has vastly improved many aspects of our world today, but it has also created a monster: instant gratification.

I’m not against technology. But some days I yearn for simpler times.

I love my computer and I enjoy being able to stay in touch with far-flung friends and family on Facebook. My cell phone is a very basic phone with the capability to call or text; it doesn’t have a camera and it doesn’t surf the web. I just don’t want to be connected 24/7. Conversely, I recently ordered a tablet, which I hope to use for reading and writing on the run. Am I doomed?

I miss the days when kids went outside to play, running the neighborhood with friends instead of sitting on their butts all day playing video games. We had face-to-face relationships instead of cyber ones. We actually talked to people, and we listened to people. Maybe we didn’t want to, but it’s hard to ignore them when they are right in front of you.

I also miss the days when we wrote and received letters. Some of my most cherished belongings are handwritten letters from my grandmother. I’m hoping to one day at least get to read a shoebox full of letters currently not in my possession; letters my uncle wrote to my grandmother during the war. Anticipation is a heady feeling.

With instant gratification, there is no anticipation. We rely so heavily on our devices for communication and entertainment. It’s all at our fingertips, literally. But what happens when our batteries drain, when the power is out or we have no reception? 

Without technology, we are left to our own devices. Some people are so connected they wouldn’t know what to do without their devices. Not me. I have my trusty pen and paper.

Do you also yearn for simpler times, or do you prefer to be connected to technology?


Anonymous said...

Tucked in my burn box are a note and two cards in my mother's handwriting -- items I can't bear to part with because of the personal connection they still deliver. A person's handwriting reveals so much and you're right, it's a lost art. Me -- I'm a printer. Wonder what that tells you? Rena Koontz

HiDee said...

Rena, I don't know that it matters if it's printing or cursive - it's still more personal. Seeing something written by someone you love is just a feel good moment. :) Thanks for commenting!

kali said...

I didn't learn to type until I was in my 30s, so when I need my comfort zone as a writer, it's still me, in a chair, with a pen and a pad. The only drawback is that the dog likes pen and paper as much as I do--leave them within wet nose distance, and great, memorable words are chewed into oblivion :(

Anonymous said...

HiDee -- I'm with you, ideas flow more readily when I write by hand, and my sentences are more complex and the writing tends to be richer overall. And I can remember when I was a kid,going with my mom to the stationery store and picking out boxes of letter paper and envelopes that she would use in the coming year. I know you can get different printer papers but it's not the same as writing a letter on thick elegant paper.

I also worry about the security of messages sent over a computer (Big Brother paranoia). It's a lot easier to cybersnoop that it is to intercept hard copy mail. Of course with terrorism prevalent around the globe...

I do miss simpler times, I don't want to be constantly "connected" especially to my job! It seems like I had more time 20 - 30 years ago, felt less pressure,and definitely got more exercise.

End of rant...

Anonymous said...

Great post. It's interesting how you noted above that you like to write with pen and paper since it's slower and allows you to think. For me, I like that my fingers type about the same speed as my thoughts come, because I don't lose any information that I'd like to get down. If I'm writing using pen and paper, I tend to lose some ideas since the process takes longer. But writing with pen and paper can be more fun sometimes.

HiDee said...

Kali, you hit it on the nose - writing with pen and paper is definitely a comfort zone. You'll have to get your dog his own set. :) Thanks for commenting!

HiDee said...

That's a great rant! I've collected papers too, and there are definitely some I like better than others. I worry about Big Brother some, but maybe not as much as I should. Less pressure, more exercise, more writing because I wasn't distracted with social media and the internet... Thanks for stopping by!

HiDee said...

As for typing speeds, because my day job is clerical, I do a lot of typing. I guess my speed has been honed over the years because of that. And it's hard to slow it down to write. My papers are always messy because I tend to jot down those thoughts to the sides of my page so I can come back to them later. Also, if I'm writing with pen and paper - I can avoid the other distractions on the computer. So there is a method to my madness! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Angela Adams said...

I exchange hand-written letters with a friend from college. We graduated in 1988, and writing letters was something we did before email -- and, we continue to do so even today.

RT Wolfe said...

There are many theories on handwriting and its importance. I think we are losing this valuable brain tool. (myself included) I'm glad to see so many authors still write their work...although I have no idea how they do that!
-R.T. Wolfe

HiDee said...

Angela, that's really neat. Thanks for sharing.

HiDee said...

R.T., I agree handwriting is a valuable tool. Hopefully we won't totally lose it.

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