is handwriting history?

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Tom Kuntz (Idea of the day NYT blog) refers to an article by Anne Trubek in Miller-McCune magazine that suggests that handwriting is history.

According to Anne, 'handwriting slowly became a form of self-expression when it ceased to be the primary mode of written communication. When a new writing technology develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. The supplanted technology is vaunted as more authentic because it is no longer ubiquitous or official. Thus for monks, print was capricious and script reliable. So too today: Conventional wisdom holds that computers are devoid of emotion and personality, and handwriting is the province of intimacy, originality and authenticity.'

Whatever we use to write, there will be a shortfall between conception and execution, between the ideas in our heads and the words we produce. We often insert nostalgia into this gap (Kuntz).

As a kid I treasured letters received from my grandmother - there was something magical about her gorgeous old fashioned script and the touch of the paper she had chosen to communicate her messages on.

I love hand writing. I also love to draw. For me there's real pleasure in putting [a good] pen to [good] paper; a sensual, creative act. We were taught cursive at school but not until quite late and seemed to be given a certain amount of freedom to develop our own style. My friend Penny and I developed our own unique and quite similar style. I swear to this day she is probably the only person in the world who could easily forge my writing!

I remember my son Geordie on the other hand being frustrated in infants school when his thought processes were far in excess of his limited handriting skills. He rapidly became a touch typer - and a wonderful writer. Anne refers to Geordie's frustration as a desire for 'cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whichever technology we must use to record our thoughts.' But of course handwriting was usually not just for us, for our records, but to communicate messages to others.

Thank heavens we no longer have to hand write university essays or slog over clunky typewriters. But kids DO still have to hand write in their HSC exams. Why? How fair and reliable is that assessment of a young adults knowledge, where most of those individuals are touch typers and far more adept on a keyboard particularly when there's a time limit to get a message across? What exactly are they assessing?

So yes,  handwriting for communicating text is becoming obsolete. The mistake is confusing handwriting for message-making communication with handwriting as art form. Beautiful handwriting is an art; the choice of putting a tool (pen or other) onto a surface (paper or other) for expression might vary in media but it will remain.

[CC FlickR image: Tom Bunny]