Is handwriting on the way out? Is scribbling with a pencil or ink pen on actual paper destined to become a cultural relic? The BBC wonders in a brief piece that presents the arguments in two columns, one that views (cursive) writing as critical — a matter of heritage and art, the other suggesting that we’re clinging to handwriting for mere nostalgic reasons.
I don’t have the answer, but my penmanship has been in decline for years because I write almost never (just to sign checks or mortgage documents, and even then, it’s chicken scratch — were my signature an EKG chart, I’d be dead). A decade ago, finishing my graduate degree, I was filling spiral-bound notebooks with tiny, barely legible notes — for some goofy reason, I liked to cram two written lines between each 9/32 of an inch horizontal writing space. In the 2000s, I switched to a notebook computer for everything, because I can type and revise a lot faster than I can scribble something down or erase and rewrite it. I’ve since folded smartphones and tablets in, my notes automatically synchronized, easily accessible and readily available for copying, printing or emailing.
I know many who’ll swear by legal pads and no. 2 pencils, who — even if they eventually have to type things out — prefer to write by hand. They argue that by actually writing things out, they’re slowing the creative process down, allowing themselves more time to consider what they have to say. Consider the hypothetical advantages if you know you’re going to revise what you’ve written anyway — as they say, most of writing well is revision.
And yet Jeffrey Reaser, the North Carolina State University linguistics professor interviewed for the piece makes a powerful point: “The resources that schools are given, the most important resource probably is time. There’s only so many hours in the school year, we have to think about what really fits in there in terms of our priorities.”
What do you think? Pen and paper are as much “technology” as laptops, desktops and tablets. Is the urge to continue teaching forms of handwriting like cursive just a kind of primitivism? A generational artifact that’ll eventually disappear now that we’ve developed arguably superior communication alternatives? If the research indicates that the cognitive benefits from learning to write by hand are essentially nil, should we really bother anymore at the formal educational level (beyond, say, its pursuit as an art)?