The Quiet Demise of Handwriting

November 19, 2013

When I was younger, before there were cell phones, laptops, tablets etc...I used pen and pencil to write.  I loved writing so much I would make lists of things I had already done just to have something to write and satisfyingly cross out.


Oh what a satisfying feeling sharp pencil dragging across paper is to me!

My friends and I had notebooks that we would write in during class and then exchange between classes.  I could write novels of conversation in the span of a few minutes. I still can. In fact, every story I work on I write long hand and then type. I can stare blankly at a screen for ages with not a thought coming out in type but when I put pen to paper magic happens baby!

15 years later, stooped over a faded hand written letter penned by a man named Sir Henry Strachey who was a diplomat sent to America to try to smooth things over between the colonies and Britain in 1775, I marvel at his beautiful, elegant, swirly handwriting.  The particular page I am remembering was a love letter to his wife, the kind that made you blush despite having said nothing graphic in nature back when men had to use prose to impress a woman.  (I've got my husband working on that one;)  It was the combination of beautiful words and beautiful writing that struck me and got me feeling melancholy. Is a beautiful handwritten page, in a mans hand no less, something we may never see again?

I went home that day and told my husband I wanted him to write me a love letter. Something that can be found in 200 years by a future archivist, something that will make them wonder what my life was like. He wrote me a beautiful love letter that I cherish but I should note that he typed it up and printed it out.  No, not printed by hand, printed out of a printer.  And thus is the sign of the times. (I still love it babe, thank you!)

I sat down on my porch one day watching the kids play, doodling in my notebook, and I decided to write out the alphabet in cursive.  Upper and lower case.  Go ahead and find yourself a piece of paper and a pencil and do the same right now.  Go ahead.  Don't be surprised when you get tripped up on a few of those rarely used uppercase cursives. Try not to be too appalled at how awkward it feels to write period. We barely even sign our names with real pencils anymore. Instead we swipe cards and scribble something illegible with an electronic pen that is about as useless as one square of toilet paper.

That day I realized mine may be the last generation of cursive writers and how awful a realization that is! With the implementation of Common Core in every school in America and teachers being given the option of spending time on teaching cursive or working on more test prep etc., cursive instruction is a rarity. There are many who feel it should be this way since we are in the age of technology.  It's a valid argument. We type, we swipe, we tap screens, we speak words out loud and they appear and soon we will simply think it and it will be so (how sweet will that be?)

But wait! Those who would toss cursive in the can should be advised that I have done my research and there may be more reason to keep it than previously thought:)  In fact, brain imaging studies have shown the benefits of a child writing cursive are in the same realm as learning to play a musical instrument. 

As someone whose eldest son struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder I can tell you that the type of organization, coordination, and stimulation provided by learning cursive sounds like a great tool to help him 'rewire.' In a time when we have so many children with processing difficulties teaching cursive and noting improvements in children, especially those with attention and processing disorders, is well worth study.

This article by Dr. William Klemm, Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M, is well worth the read (it's a short one so you have time;) What Learning Cursive Does For Your Brain.

Even if you don't have children to concern yourself with, the demise of the hand-written word is something we are all witness to and a phenomenon worth pondering. What will future generations glean about us from our digital footprint? As an Archivist I can tell a lot about a person from their handwriting such as roughly what year they were born, what country they were taught in, what their economic status was etc...Perhaps next time you send a thank you note, rather than a quick post on Facebook, a text or a voicemail, try writing a note in cursive. What does your writing say about you? Does your language change when you write rather than type? Does it make you feel calm and focused?

Admit it, that scraaaaatch is so satisfying:)

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