Monday, March 1, 2010

The Handwriting Apocalypse


With every major technological innovation comes the death of what it replaces. The telephone killed the telegraph, the email killed the letter, and video killed the radio star. So why does the nearly 7000 year old practice of writing things by hand remain? Will the latest in tech innovation finally cause its imminent demise? The decline of handwriting has long been predicted, but the pencil’s rapture has yet to come.

In a great article in The Guardian published in 2006, Stuart Jefferies argues that handwriting is here to stay and poignantly notes several reasons why he thinks so. Writing is one of the best ways to cultivate young minds, he reasons, as it helps with motor-skill development. It is also, after all, the most reliable form of documentation. If your computer were to fail, you wouldn’t want to hire a scribe just to write a grocery list.

Imagine the power is out. Your Blackberry is blinking out of battery, and your chances of finding a solar or wind unit to charge your electronics are nil. Your friends can’t lend you a computer, either. Wouldn’t handwriting be helpful here? Well, just imagine a little further. Our world is increasingly reliant on energy and computers. We use them for everything important in our lives, from managing our money to our health records. If no power is available, the least of your worries will be scrawling a note to your roommate telling them not to eat your Hot Pockets.

Should handwriting be taught to kids for its developmental value? Handwriting is shown to improve muscle control, hand eye coordination, and balance in young children. But it is not the only way to develop these skills, and emphasis of teaching proper handwriting techniques at a young age, I think, could be better spent teaching children how to type efficiently, because, simply put, typing is more efficient. The average American handwrites 31 words per minute and types 40. A professional typist typically has a WPM score of around 70. You can test your own score here for free.

clip_image001Even the use of handwritten Post-it notes is on the decline. I keep track of everything on my computer and Blackberry. My schedule is done through Microsoft Outlook and linked to my phone’s calendar; my homework assignments are all posted online. If I want to tell my friend something and he isn't around, I don’t leave him a note but rather send him a text message. Instead of leaving a note on my door telling visitors where I went, I could just update my Facebook status or Tweet it. It is not the invention of a single new technology that will lead to writing's demise, but rather a host of more efficient writing substitutes.

I do not think we should stop teaching handwriting, nor do I discount the value of a hand-signed note. But I do believe that the pencil will fade away to obscurity as technology advances and we become more adept at using it.

Do you think handwriting is an important skill? Will it ever go extinct? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

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1 comment:

  1. Putting pencil to paper will never truly be erased. Those who have not well learned the skill will suffer. Technology allows us to be more productive but you have entered into very dangerous territory to rely solely on it. There are many times that it is not available and there are many people who cannot afford it. Most can afford a penicil or can afford to GIVE a pencil. Can you afford not knowing how to use it?


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