A Dying Art: Whatever Happened to Handwriting?

Ashleigh Holmes

Image: “Fountain Pen,” pixabay.com, public domain.

While writing a previous essay on the history and potential future of scripts, I raised the issue of no longer having standardized scripts and facing a world where digital technology makes handwriting less of a priority. The future of scripts is by extension the future of handwritten material.  I believe that scripts have a future as long as there are pens, paper, and those willing to use these materials; but it is disconcerting to hear about school curricula erasing handwriting from the lesson plan. A growing issue faced in schools today is the issue of whether to teach students proper printing and cursive, or whether to teach students digital literacy. In primary school, the very first thing I was taught was how to write in print, as were most students of my generation and older ones as well. Today more and more schools are refusing to teach cursive, and some are even refusing to teach printed writing; some schools teach completely in digital forms (Funnell). Students seem use a keyboard more than they use a pencil.

All that handwriting requires is a pen/pencil and a surface to write on. A pen and a piece of paper does not require a hard drive, batteries, or a satellite to power it. You can drop pens and pencils in water, or on the ground without them breaking like a tablet would. Pens and paper are inexpensive to acquire or to make. For thousands of years, we have used handwriting because it empowers the user’s mind to create. When we handwrite, we engage our fine motor skills and use specific tactile movements which allows the brain to retain what is being written down. You probably don’t realize how engaging writing is; you need to mentally think of a word that describes what you are thinking, and then move your hand in a formulated sequence to form the individual letters (body recognition). Handwriting requires the syncing of one’s mind, eyes, and hand; it is a dynamic learning experience and therefore key in childhood development. Writing with pen and paper helps develop children’s understanding of how to form letters, therefore developing their fine motor skills and mental recognition processes, which facilitates the learning of how to read (Funnell). Handwriting is also a very personal experience. It records more than just words, but also our personalities and emotions. The individualized strokes are the building blocks of our unique signatures or written fingerprints.

Image: British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, “Medieval Bestiary.” Public domain.

What happened to taking pride in the way our writing looks?  The only forms of scripts we have today are in calligraphic art (such as in tattoos, or professional penmanship), but these rare talents in the 21st century. Using standardized scripts and taking care in how one’s writing looks has reverted to being practiced by a very select group of people. Calligraphy and penmanship specialists are like the scribes of the medieval period; they are specially trained in beautiful writing.

Books, text messages, emails, posters, newspapers all use fonts as they are the products of print and digital technology. Fonts are favoured because of their consistency and convenience.  There are those who believe that handwriting will succumb to the popularity of digital interfaces and disappear from use altogether. However, what happens when technology fails? I think people sometimes fail to consider this question because digital technology seems invincible.

I am not going so far as to say that we need to choose handwriting or typing, but instead I think we need to stop putting these two amazing technologies against each other. Typing is a fundamental skill that needs to be learned these days, but it should not be taught at the expense of eliminating handwriting. We have become so dependant on digital forms of literacy that we are beginning to forget the literacy that has empowered us for thousands of years. I don’t see handwriting and scripts ever truly disappearing. However, I feel uneasy about its future. I can’t help but think that by cutting handwriting from our learning systems, we deprive ourselves of a technology, and an art, that is reliable, valuable, and beautiful.

Works Cited

Funnell, Anthony. “Is the Writing on the Wall for Handwriting?ABC Radio National, Sep. 9, 2015. Web.

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