Thoughts on Handwriting

In the digital age, it’s no big secret that handwriting is falling by the wayside. When documents can be typed much faster and more easily than they can be printed or written, it doesn’t make sense to write anything longhand. Some schools don’t even incorporate cursive in their curriculum anymore, as they argue it’s a dying art that loses its significance as technology advances and we do more and more on our computers or tablets.

To some level, I understand why the shift is occurring: the importance of handwriting is waning because writing is slower and less convenient than typing. In an age where we dash off a hundred  emails a day that can be sent anywhere around the world in seconds, why bother writing a letter longhand? It’s inefficient.

But I think it would be a mistake to let handwriting fall by the wayside. In honor of the National Day on Writing, I stopped to reflect on how, why, and what I write, and something I realized is that my ideas come more naturally when I write longhand. When I’m stuck on an idea, I can let my mind wander by doodling a flower, writing my name, crossing things out, and as I let my pen dance across the page, soon I’ve let my thoughts wander so far that the idea actually comes to me, and by then I’m scribbling so fast I can hardly keep up with my thoughts. There’s something so much more inviting about an empty page and a pencil than the blinking, demanding cursor on a blank word document.

When I look down at notes and letters I’ve handwritten, I see myself. My distinct handwriting — my straight up-and-down print, my slanted, loopy cursive is me all over, and you don’t get that level of personality with a typed document. When my students submitted typed essays, had their names not been printed at the top of the page I couldn’t tell whose was whose. But as soon as they’d hand me an assignment written on binder paper, I knew immediately which paper was Max’s; I could tell by his loopy scrawl — oh, this one is Abby’s; I can tell by her careful print — this one is Jacqueline’s; I can tell by the slanted cursive and the purple ink she loves to use.

I think handwriting is as much of a reflection of your personality as your clothing or your haircut, and in this age of technology we run the risk of losing it. We don’t write out our grocery lists; we type them into our iPhones. Students don’t write out a paragraph for a school assignment; they can type much faster.

For this reason, I want to share a fabulous article by Philip Hensher on why handwriting matters, particularly in the digital age. In it, he describes the deeply personal aspects of handwriting:

We have surrendered our handwriting for something more mechanical, less distinctively human, less telling about ourselves and less present in our moments of the highest happiness and the deepest emotion. Ink runs in our veins, and shows the world what we are like. The shaping of thought and written language by a pen, moved by a hand to register marks of ink on paper, has for centuries, millennia, been regarded as key to our existence as human beings. In the past, handwriting has been regarded as almost the most powerful sign of our individuality. In 1847, in an American case, a witness testified without hesitation that a signature was genuine, though he had not seen an example of the handwriting for 63 years: the court accepted his testimony.

Handwriting is what registers our individuality, and the mark which our culture has made on us. It has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls and our innermost nature. It has been regarded as a sign of our health as a society, of our intelligence, and as an object of simplicity, grace, fantasy and beauty in its own right. Yet at some point, the ordinary pleasures and dignity of handwriting are going to be replaced permanently.

So in honor of the National Day on Writing, I’m going to challenge you, readers, to reconnect with your own handwriting by actually writing something! Whether it’s a grocery list, a letter to your mom, a to-do list, or even just your name, grab a pen and reconnect to that deeply personal aspect of writing that’s yours and yours alone. Here — I’ll start:

Take photos of your handwritten notes and share them with us on @Technapex, or with me at @ce_doyle!

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.
  • Richard

    I was taught to write cursive back in elementary school in the early ’60s. Years later after working in the technical drawing and electronics fields, where using block letters is the standard, I found that I virtually lost my ability to write in cursive. Disturbed by this fact, I decided about a year ago to regain this skill by using the US Declaration of Independence and other early handwriting examples as a guide.

    • Caity Doyle

      Richard, you have beautiful penmanship! It looks like calligraphy. I’m calling you when I need wedding invitations.

  • Krandall

    And yet of my dozens of friends who only use the computer to send messages rather than writing by hand ONLY ONE KNOWS HOW TO TYPE! Everyone else hunts and pecks at the keyboard. So, tell me please, how exactly the keyboard is faster than writing cursive? Especially in school when you have a limited time to finish a test.

    • Caity Doyle

      Excellent point, Krandall! If kids don’t learn how to type properly, handwriting is DEFINITELY faster.