Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Death of handwriting--really?

Time Magazine, which I've been checking out of desperation as Newsweek becomes increasingly newsless, has one of its trademark scare articles this week: "Mourning the Death of Handwriting." After the obligatory "here are my fascinating memories" intro by Claire Sudduth,* the writer, there's this little factoid: "And aside from the occasional grocery list or Post-it note, most adults write very little by hand." The article goes on to cite standardized testing, a post-1980s emphasis on learning to write cursive, and computers as major reasons for the decline.

Is handwriting really declining, and do adults really not use it very much?

About the "decline": I can see that fewer people write messages by hand, but the poor quality isn't a new thing, is it? All of you who've read handwritten letters from earlier centuries can attest to the fact that some have that whole Palmer Penmanship down to an art form as if Sister Mary Agatha is still watching, and some, well, don't.

About use: The "decline in use" is probably true, but "write very little by hand"? Is this true in academe? What about essay tests? Annotating books? Taking notes in class? Commenting on papers? I know--it's possible to do all these by typing, but it's actually faster to do some of these by whipping out a pen.

When I ask students who write poetry how they write it, it's often with a pen. In other words, one kind of writing that means something to them is writing they do with a pen.

Since Time is happy to provide proof by anecdote, maybe we can follow its lead: Do you think that handwriting is really "dead"? Does most people's yearly output of handwriting consist of a couple of postage notes and a thank-you note or two?

*Do you really care when she entered third grade? No? I rest my case.

[Edited to add this, because of Carl's comments: When I was at the archives this summer, one of the librarians said, "Your handwriting is so legible! You must have taken calligraphy!" It isn't usually that legible, but I felt as though she'd given me a gold star. Maybe handwriting instruction went out with gold stars?]

Update: Sisyphus, in the comments, has a good perspective on the article:
The article is not about the death of handwriting, which she says is an umbrella category, but of cursive, claiming that people born after a certain point just never stuck with cursive anymore.

That's totally true in my case ---- I write things out by hand all the time, but I never use cursive. Everyone I know who's roughly my age prints things. And I even had an old-school mother (much older than everyone else's) who decided my cursive was so bad that for an entire school year she fought me by making me practice cursive for hours after school every day.

I had never thought of this as a generational thing and had conflated the two-- writing = cursive--but Sis is absolutely right.

8 comments:

Carl said...

Sorry I took so long to get to commenting here, I was backchecking all my old (and new) blogposts for irrelevant, tiresome personal details. ;-)

Speaking of which, I read essays for AP World History this summer and last, and apart from the fact that high school students' handwriting falls into three or four eventually-tiresome style categories, it seems to be perfectly fluid and functional.

I much prefer to do my paper commenting by hand (and in pencil) but this may just be a dinosaur habit.

Carl said...

I should have mentioned that at my little university, our professional golf management students (it's a concentration within the business major; John Stewart thinks it's also the single most dispositive piece of evidence that a school is not seriously rigorous) are all taught calligraphy, because the country club swells like to see their names in fancy scrip on the tournament scoreboards. So who says handwriting is dead.

Carl said...

Scrip = script, must have been distracted by all that money.

undine said...

Carl, your details aren't tiresome! (I know, you were kidding.) That's what makes blogs interesting! I just have this old-fashioned notion that newsmagazines ought to, I don't know, convey the news or something, which is why I rant so much about the little "look at me!" pirouettes that the writers in Time and Newsweek like to do these days.

I'm glad to know that the handwriting on AP essays is fluid and functional, and I love the idea that golf management students are learning calligraphy. I'm having this vision of all these college-age athletes with their pen nibs poised at a 45 degree angle, looking carefully at Arrighi's Operina.

Anonymous said...

I still write by hand a lot of the time ... yes poetry too and always with a felt tipped pen. A green one or perhaps black - depending on the mood. I find something very liberating and exciting, by times, about a clean sheaf of paper and a journey not yet begun.

And yes, I still receive (and send) hand written letters from some friends, often written on a series of postcards. And I send handwritten cards when on holiday or sometimes an image is sent (or received) just for no reason at all.

For me, they tell far more of a tale than an email ever could. Especially afterwards.

Of course I engage in emailing to a great extent. Yes, more than the written word. And yes I would be lost without WORD and the internet.

But in responding to your post this is just to say that I an left uninspired (and unconvinced) by that confessional style bit of journalism by 'yer woman'.

Whither now the hand writing experts? Are they totally redundant?

Congrats on the Gold Stars by the way!!

Sisyphus said...

Ok, I've finally read that Time article, and I have to nitpick. The article is not about the death of handwriting, which she says is an umbrella category, but of cursive, claiming that people born after a certain point just never stuck with cursive anymore.

That's totally true in my case ---- I write things out by hand all the time, but I never use cursive. Everyone I know who's roughly my age prints things. And I even had an old-school mother (much older than everyone else's) who decided my cursive was so bad that for an entire school year she fought me by making me practice cursive for hours after school every day.

She has copperplate script writing. I still don't.

What's interesting to me is that this non-valuing of cursive is so widespread, considering most of the people of my generation didn't have moms whacking them with rulers to rebel against.

undine said...

Sisyphus, I stand corrected! You're absolutely right--the article was about the death of cursive, and I conflated the two. I'm going to amend the post right now.

undine said...

Anonymous, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who writes things by hand if they're special. I think the gold stars were only for shining by comparison, but I'll take any gold stars I can get!