Make Read

The Handwriting War

DSC_0040 (1)How does it feel to you to set a nice gel-tipped pen on paper and inscribe? At the end of a long day when you take your journal to bed and let your thoughts and emotions pour out from your heart to your hand into something you can HOLD, something that came from the earth and that can go back into the earth again—how does that feel? You have something you can crumple up or burn or frame… Paper with something from YOU on it. Not a uniform typed print that expresses nothing of who you are; not print that you pressed buttons and stared at a screen to achieve but ink that you pushed into paper with the emotions you carry.

When you read back over your journals, does every page look the same or does your handwriting change depending on the emotion of the entry? Mine changes. Sometimes I write in very small script if I’m feeling shy and vulnerable. I like a languid, stretched script when I’m feeling romantic. There are pages in my journal with giant scribbles and big printed letters, underlined and messy when I really need to get a point across to myself.

Do you like receiving handwritten ‘thank you’ or birthday cards? What if that ceased to exist? How about if the only cards you received were printed from a computer, “script” font and all, or even worse, only came via email and the need for paper was eliminated?

What about those of you who write songs? How is it to prop up a computer on top of your piano and type words? Do you feel connected to those words and those feelings, or do you need to put a pencil on paper and get messy with it? I couldn’t write a song on the computer if my life depended on it. A computer screen turns off the creativity in my brain that is rooted in the tangible elements of nature. It provides unlimited distraction with the internet so close by my ‘text-edit’ icon, and instantly disconnects me from the struggle I need in order to turn out good work.

The struggle is important. All our advances in technology are aimed at making life easier… But then what happens? What happens when everything is just… Easy? What evidence in history do we have that an easy life gave birth to anything of value? None. Humans create brilliant things through struggle.

This is my argument for why cursive handwriting should remain a foundational part of school curriculum, as a response to this New York Times article I read last week. Anne Trubek says Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter. And the federal education system agrees with her. “The desire to write faster has driven innovations throughout history: Ballpoint pens replaced quill pens; typewriters improved on pens; and computers go faster than typewriters. Why go back?” Trubek notes. Furthermore she is suggesting that, since people are judged on their penmanship, typing “levels the playing field” and, finally, claims there will be no loss to our children’s intelligence as a result.

Alright, so, imagine an age (very soon) when handwriting is as lost an art as heiroglyphics. Imagine being totally unable to write your words, thoughts or feelings without the assistance of a computer. Can you go there—where your handwriting doesn’t matter? Where so totally does it not matter that you are unable to write with your hands….

YOUR handwriting, I would argue, is part of your freedom and here’s why: Handwriting is, on its most basic level, a way you express yourself that no one can replace or take away from you—unless schools & parents stop teaching it.  If no one teaches our children how to make the words flow using cursive and they want to journal or just write with a pen for pleasure, block printing is a hindrance.  They have no real choice. They become a slave to their need for a computer in a vital-organ sort of way. Or (because who wants to stare at a screen all day?) they just stop writing all together.

You know what else happens when you type on a computer?  It spells things for you. Suddenly you don’t have to learn how to spell anymore. Sure, it’s easier. It also makes you dumber. On top of that, there’s our physical health: according to this recent Harvard study the blue light from computers can interrupt circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin—a hormone that helps you sleep, and decreased amounts of which has been linked to cancer, diabetes, increased risk of depression and more. So… that would make us a society of people who are constantly in a state of mental and physical strain, who don’t know how to spell and who are completely reliant on electronics for the most basic form of communication outside of speaking.

Here are two clips from one of my all-time favorite films, Equilibrium. Emily Watson (first scene) has been captured by a law-enforcement captain (Christian Bale) in a future society where everyone takes daily medication to eliminate emotion. In the second scene he is raiding an underground ‘Resistance’ collection of vintage (illegal) items such as books, snowglobes, art, record players, etc. But he has stopped taking his numbing medication…

It may seem like I’m being dramatic but this is where we are headed, little by little, with the slow, seemingly-harmless dismantling of things that make us slow down and feel; things like books, classical music, records, and handwriting. Your ability to connect your thoughts to a piece of paper without an electronic conduit is as important as your ability to choose your clothes, makeup, haircut, food, bank, lovers, church… If you are not educated enough to express yourself without the need for an electronic device, do you understand how much you now rely on being provided that device? Who is in control of your self expression then? You? …I don’t think so. I wonder how long it will take after handwriting is obsolete for other self expressions to follow suit. I’m actually terrified by this. Boy, did Orwell get it right, or did he get it right.

What does handwriting mean to you?

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