Is Handwriting Going the Way of Cave Drawings?
On three separate occasions in recent weeks, I was struck by how far we are all moving from what some are calling the lost art of handwriting. First of all, I've had the sad pleasure of reading dozens of cards, notes and letters from friends and relatives after the recent passing of my Mom. There is just something very special about seeing a person's written note on a page that brings them closer to you. But at the same time, some people's handwriting is easier to read than others.
Which brings me to my second "aha" of the past few weeks. My 19-year-old son, home from college and stuck being the adult on the premises for many duties while my husband and I are at work, was kind enough to take the dogs to the vet for their annual physicals. I wrote out a list of questions for him and, as I was writing it, he said, "Oh, cursive. Can you print it out instead?" My children, who are 19, 22 and 25, cannot read my handwriting. Admittedly, I write very quickly and probably could rival a doctor in the scribbling department. But I think it's beyond my own hurried script. This generation is not used to reading anything that is handwritten. They just don't do cursive.
The final reminder of this situation that urged me to write for BTH is our new bulletin board in our break room at the agency. We had a fairly active bulletin board in our Woburn office and have recreated that now in Boston. Some of the items that are on our bulletin board have a yellow sticky note attached to them with someone's beautiful combination of cursive and block-printing emphasizing why the team should read it. It made me stop and look.
In this age of community and constant interconnectedness, it's sad to think that the art of handwriting -- beyond letter writing -- is being lost and many of us, myself included, aren't maintaining our ability to communicate with written word from our hands on paper in a unique way to other human beings. It made me think that when young people go to museums like Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston and see the old letters from writers and painters to this patron of the arts, they soon won't be able to read them at all, as they will have totally lost the ability to decipher cursive. So many of us tap out messages with two thumbs via text or email or send tweets and even write letters using our computing devices. With the movement toward touch screens, the actual feel of a keyboard may eventually be something we'll have to experience at the Smithsonian, although I'll go down swinging on that one.
Meanwhile, as communications people, let's think about my reaction to the personal nature and effort from the card and letter writers and my notice of the hand-written notes on our bulletin board. They drew me in. They got my attention. I was in Nantucket recently, sitting outside the general store downtown and in a 10 minute period I watched at least a dozen people come up to the town bulletin board and post notices, remove notices, or stop and read all of the notices. This was an "old school" way to communicate, but it was working amazingly well in this small community. Perhaps there's a lesson we all can learn as we try to grab attention. Perhaps a hand-written note to someone we've not been able to contact via email would stand out in this era of digital communication. It's not a bad idea to give it a try, especially when the communication is important and really requires attention from the recipient.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to be practicing my penmanship. I think Sister Shawn Marie's comments on my report card back in seventh grade weren't all wrong. I'm just happy I still can read them.