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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Handwriting Obsolete?

The pen keyboard is mightier than the sword.

This week I was passing over some old papers to the university Archivist of my alma mater. In the course of our conversation, I happened to ask him if he had many students who took on projects in the archives as part of a credit course.  His answer - that students couldn’t read ‘cursive writing’ any more - really took me by surprise and I was incredulous until I thought of how my grandchildren ‘write’ [on the rare occasions when they have to] - they all print instead
When you think about it, 20 year old university students were born in 1992 and so they likely have had access to a computer since they can remember.  By the time they were 10, smart phones were on the market so theirs is a digital world where the ‘norm’ is to have swift thumbs constantly text messaging or exploring the latest on Facebook.  They were taught handwriting in school but so seldom had to use it or read it, or even see examples of it, that it just didn’t really take.
So, is handwriting an ‘endangered species’? For even someone as old as I am it's threatened! Having taught science at university, I started using computers when they first came out [my first was a Commodore 64] and now my handwriting is so bad that when I write a letter to my ‘computer-challenged’ peers, I use
Edwardian script, then run off a print and send it by mail. I seem 
to get away with it and when I write several letters at Christmas with the similar messages I have to admit it’s very easy to personalize and duplicate them. 
When I came across the website about how others had forgotten to write, I felt better.  However, I still thought I was pretty good at reading any handwriting until I tried to read the memo on the right that was written by the head of the CIA at the time, Leon  Panetta. Fortunately I found the digital text online because I was  stumped by a couple of words.      
In a way it’s too bad that we no longer write letters because when you see a person’s handwriting it’s so distinctive of them, it often evokes your emotions.  There is a ‘science’ called Graphology that claims to be able to analyse a person’s character just by studying their handwriting.  Good luck to the experts with the modern generations! 
So, in this digital age how can Archivists possibly retrieve material on a desired subject out of their massive holdings of old handwritten papers?  Their long-term goal is to build an automatic search engine for their historical collections of handwritten documents. That will be no mean feat!   Rie 


  1. I'm as guilty as anyone else. I went to school - grammar) in the 40's and they taught me how to write in cursive, but later on I developed my idiosyncratic writing, which is largely printed. Time marches on.

  2. I too remember being taught to write the cursive letters the standard way but practiced other ways of writing and now tend to print to make what I 'write' legible.