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The Moving Finger types; and, having typed, Moves on
October 8, 2012 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps that is the way to get handwriting back into our lives – as something which is a pleasure, which is good for us, and which is human in ways not all communication systems manage to be. It will never again have the place in people's lives that it had in 1850. But it should, like good food or the capacity to take a walk, have some place in our lives from which it is not going to be dislodged. Extracted from The Missing Ink: The lost art of handwriting (and why it still matters) by Philip Hensher.
posted by ersatz (133 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know, this weekend was kind of chilly, so we had a fire. I couldn't help but think that this was how people heated their houses up until just a short while ago.

I think the same of handwriting.
posted by Blue_Villain at 9:18 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty certain that handwriting was for communication, not for heating homes.
posted by biffa at 9:20 AM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


For me, writing longhand is a very different experience from typing on a computer. When I'm writing longhand I can both concentrate much longer and also allow myself to unfocus for much longer, letting my mind drift without feeling the need to do something else. When I'm typing, even without an internet connection, I can't achieve that level of concentration or unfocus.
posted by Kattullus at 9:25 AM on October 8, 2012


My wife and I were stunned when we recently discovered that our local school system no longer teaches the kids cursive/longhand writing, and hasn't for several years.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:27 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unpack your invisible pencil case full of right-handed entitlement, Hensher.
posted by darksasami at 9:33 AM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was stunned when I discovered that my kid's school still teaches handwriting as if it were a basic skill.

I get the whole 'but what if your cellphone, tablet and notebook's batteries simultaneously die and you need to send instructions to stop a bomb from going off???" thing, but it seems more like a quaint, nostalgic ability, like bread baking or butter churning, than something you actually need to function.
posted by signal at 9:34 AM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


I am always a little disappointed when I see a specials sign for a restaurant and I think "that's the best handwriting they had on the entire staff?".

And other times I can tell they have teachers-to-be working there because they have the very neat printed "chalkboard" style print, which i always find to be kinda funny advertising a froufrou fine dining dish or gin martini.

i like writing by hand, but i don't do it enough. i used to write notes to friends in high school but that was before email and cell phones were so prevalent. oh wow. i'm old. (i still have some notes from friends in a box somewhere!)
posted by sio42 at 9:35 AM on October 8, 2012


Anyone who thinks we should write more hasn't seen my handwritting.

I think it's a terrible waste of resources to teach cursive writing in schools; that being said, I've had the Spencerian Penmanship book on my wishlist for about a year now.

My point is that cursive is artisanal. And I think there are more useful artisanal topics that could be taught, such as how to fix your car and toilet, how to do your taxes, etc.
posted by rebent at 9:36 AM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


As a 20-something I have to say I'm not a fan of cursive. I learned it in school, of course, and my quirky 7+8th grade English teacher even made us write everything in class in cursive. My problem with it is that I find it more laborious to write in, I can write much longer in print, and my print is more legible to boot. At school I know TAs loathe marking exams written in cursive.

On the other hand, I do really love writing manually. A pen is so much better for quickly jotting down an idea, you don't have to unlock your phone and open an app...

I can never decide whether it's better to write notes by hand or on the computer. The computer adds a lot of distraction to the classroom, but it's also easier to alter and collate later, which is important to my studying habits.

Really both have their advantages, but I hope to god the pen never dies.
posted by Strass at 9:38 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]




signal: "I was stunned when I discovered that my kid's school still teaches handwriting as if it were a basic skill.

I get the whole 'but what if your cellphone, tablet and notebook's batteries simultaneously die and you need to send instructions to stop a bomb from going off???" thing, but it seems more like a quaint, nostalgic ability, like bread baking or butter churning, than something you actually need to function.
"

Signal, when you say handwriting, do you mean cursive, or cursive and print?
posted by rebent at 9:38 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like his advice to 'play with your letterforms,' and every few years I'll usually switch up a couple of mine. Anyone know of some good handwriting examples? I'm especially interested in making printed letters look nice; I gave up cursive as soon as they stopped requiring it in eighth grade.
posted by echo target at 9:39 AM on October 8, 2012


As someone who spends several hours a week decyphering the handwriting of an office full of therapists and physicians I say: good riddance to handwriting.

Romanticize handwriting all you want, but the truth is, there's a reason we have gone to text: it's easier to read. And for most people, it's a lot faster to generate.
posted by ErikaB at 9:39 AM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, this weekend was kind of chilly, so we had a fire. I couldn't help but think that this was how people heated their houses up until just a short while ago.

Everything which used to be a necessity becomes a highly cultivated pastime for the generations that follow.
posted by jamjam at 9:42 AM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


As someone who's had horrible handwriting all my life, probably partially due to southpawness: rot in hell, handwriting. Don't let the door hit you.

I'll teach my daughter to write by hand, for reasons that probably mostly boil down to superstition and conformity. After that, unless the zombie apocalypse comes, I'm done.
posted by gurple at 9:43 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bad handwriting is a gateway drug to poor spelling and more worser grammar. It's like the brown M&Ms of civilization.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:44 AM on October 8, 2012


I've been trying to learn proper penmanship for years now but haven't been able to find a single book for adults (with the exception of books on calligraphy).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:46 AM on October 8, 2012


I vividly remember telling my 3rd grade teacher that I shouldn't have to learn how to write because I already knew how to type. Back in the 80's I was saying that in the future everyone will just have a computer around where they could type everything that they needed to write and then everything would be so much faster and efficient. (I got to type all of my essays after that statement as well)

Now I am sitting in front of my computer doing work and typing this comment so much faster that I could write it and n the plus side everyone else is able to read it as well.

Using a pen is just too slow for me. I can understand why some people like ti but if I write something it either is completely illegible to anyone but me or looks like a 7 year old wrote it. (Oddly the same time I started typing nearly everything)
posted by koolkat at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bad handwriting is a gateway drug to poor spelling and more worser grammar.

Unfortunately, typing is no cure for either of those drawbacks. In many ways, typing makes it worse. At least most people have access to spellcheck. If only they would use it.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:49 AM on October 8, 2012


Maybe it says something larger about me, but, I have never been able to "enjoy my own handwriting" like the author suggests we do--it's always seemed like something that was too arduous, too slow, and too error-prone to ever really enjoy. (I'm sure it doesn't help that my penmanship has always been beyond rescue.) The only sensual aspect to it was the muscle ache that developed from my habit of pressing the pen to paper with a force almost equal to my desperation to be done with it. There's a light and nimble aspect of typing that I've always really enjoyed, and it carries with it the sensation that I'm shaping and reshaping an idea on the screen, almost telepathically.

Writing by hand just seems so... heavy, because you're casting the words into being with a greater degree of permanence. I dislike looking at something I've written in a notebook and seeing all the misplaced letters, malformed squiggles, crossed-out words, and so on. And while I understand how writers could enjoy that drafting process, for both emotional and practical reasons--it helps you track more readily how you've improved and developed a piece, for one--I just don't like that feeling of not being able to undo or edit without significant effort.

I do write quite a bit in cards, when I send them, and a couple years ago I sent handwritten letters to a bunch of my friends in a nod to the emotional associations brought up in this piece. But... past a certain point, I think asking people to read my handwriting is a form of punishment. (I had to register on site for a conference once and the assistant at the front desk said that my handwriting looked like a doctor's prescription...) It's true that it's really poignant to see someone's writing on a card or scrap of paper or recipe or whathaveyou after they've left your life, but, I'm not sure it's an irreplaceable emotional token.
posted by Kosh at 9:50 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Commenters here seem to be confusing handwriting with poor handwriting. Just because a lot of people do something poorly doesn't mean that the thing itself is bad. And I say that as someone who struggles to keep my cursive handwriting legible. I'm also very slow.

Cursive handwriting is a tool. It never hurts to learn the proper way to use a tool, even if you don't have to use it often. A friend and I write at least one letter to each other each month (with fountain pens, no less). It forces me to think differently. There's no backspace key, no moving paragraphs around, no other computer jiggery-pokery. I can't splatter a bunch of words on the page and then come back later to figure out what I was trying to say. I have to have the full thought formed in my mind before I set it down. That's a good discipline to practice.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:53 AM on October 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


I work with computers and type quite a bit every day. I use a mouse often and with the exception of pressure based track pads (may they rot in hell) I have never had any trouble with a mouse.

Hand me a pen and tell me to start writing and I will be in pain in less than 20 minutes. If I wear a wrist brace, I can write for an hour or two before the carpal tunnel and tendinitis kick in. I was a math major in college, it is one of the few disciplines left that has to be done (at least initially) by hand on paper. Once you have results you can type them up prettily, but until then you have a pencil, paper, your brain and the pain.

I spent ages working on my handwriting in middle school. I was taught cursive early because my handwriting was so atrocious. I could not hold the pencil correctly and my arm would start aching from muscle fatigue after a while. This got better as I grew up and my fine motor control improved, but it was always a struggle. I write slowly, and to this day cannot keep a straight line. (On the chalkboard my handwriting is generally a bit better, but not great.)

So if handwriting is dying, I am all for that. If it is recognized as a rare and valuable thing when someone writes a letter by hand, I think that is wonderful. I do not enjoy my handwriting, I think of it as a poor substitute for typing.

I do mourn the death of the paper letter, which unfortunately is tied into this.

I also worry about recording anything on a medium that I cannot back up. I know this is a modern affliction, but, despite the impermanence of magnetic media and the change of formats, anything that is worth keeping for any reason other than sentiment gets computerized these days and placed on multiple drives.

On Edit (oh Edit window, how I love you), I agree wholeheartedly with Kosh.
posted by Hactar at 9:58 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love writing (and receiving) letters. Yes, it is wholly impractical and antiquated, but it's also personal in a way that no e-mail is ever going to be. The problem with hand-written correspondence is that it takes the discipline of both parties to keep it going... and in the 21st century, chances are good that if you're friend enough to exchange actual letters then you're friend enough to have their email or phone number. Those are going to win for convenience every time.

I had a correspondence going for a couple of years with a friend who didn't have a computer and couldn't be bothered to get one because it was just not a thing he had any context for. About a year ago someone gave him an old laptop, showed him the ropes, and turned him loose with GMail and Facebook. The snail mail went out the window pretty much instantly.

The Fountain Pen Network has a section for people interested in exchanging letters, and I did that with a couple of folks for a while but I found it to be a little bit hollow because the only common factor in those relationships was the act of writing itself.
posted by usonian at 9:59 AM on October 8, 2012


I think it's a terrible waste of resources to teach cursive writing in schools

Indeed. Who the fuck needs to read shit like this, anyway?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Interesting that so many identify having issues with handwriting but don't acknowledge that lack of practice is what causes most of them. Of course it's going to be unreadable, slow and hurt if you only properly write a couple of times per year.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:02 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I grew up (in the 80s) I had a penpal. We exchanged handwritten letters every couple of weeks. It was always a thrill seeing those envelopes in the mail, and unfolding the paper and seeing her handwritten accounts of what had happened in her life. I'm much older now, and no longer in the thralls of teenage angst, but I don't think that experience could ever be replaced by email and texts.
posted by monospace at 10:02 AM on October 8, 2012


You know, I really regret that no one uses cuneiform anymore. There's just nothing like the feel of wet clay being pressed by the stylus. When people started to use ink and paper, I thought it's just not the same: a mark on a clay tablet is like gently pressing your ideas into the world, testing them, feeling the world slowly give in. What's writing with a pen? Scratching the impermanent paper, like an annoyed cat? No thanks. I'll take my clay and stylus.

I try to convince people we're losing something by letting cuneiform go, but it's a losing battle.

Don't even get me started on these 0s and 1s that people push around these days...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:03 AM on October 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


On Edit (oh Edit window, how I love you), I agree wholeheartedly with Kosh.

Heya, please don't use the edit window for this sort of thing.
posted by cortex at 10:04 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was surprised to hear that cursive writing is not being taught, especially after hearing from someone who recently took the GRE; she was required to write a statement in cursive in order to take the test (from the GRE website: •You will be required to write (not print) and sign a confidentiality statement at the test center. If you do not complete and sign the statement, you cannot test and your test fees will not be refunded.).

So what will hapen when these students who only know how to print start showing up to take the GRE?
posted by TedW at 10:06 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heya, please don't use the edit window for this sort of thing.

Derail, but: Why the heck not? It's not any different from "on preview" etc.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:06 AM on October 8, 2012


The local school system where I live still teaches handwriting - both print and cursive. The text they use is called "Handwriting Without Tears". As chief homework supervisor in my house, I can report that this title is false advertising. Hooray for the onset of 4th grade and permission to type assignments!
posted by Daily Alice at 10:08 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was taught cursive in elementary school but just could never do it. I struggled with it until junior high when I finally gave up and went back to printing. That was thirty-five years ago and somehow I've managed without it just fine.
posted by octothorpe at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2012


Copying that damn statement in cursive was the hardest part of the GRE - seriously I hadn't used cursive in a couple of decades and it took me a while to remember how.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Derail, but: Why the heck not? It's not any different from "on preview" etc.

More of a discussion for the Metatalk thread about the editing feature; very short version is (a) we'd prefer people not draw attention to edits and (b) it's always fine to add a second comment, not so much to change the content of your comment after other people may be responding to it. It's new, people are getting used to it, so not a huge deal, but it's a thing discussed on the editing page itself.

posted by cortex at 10:10 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we can separate cursive from handwriting in general. Penmanship was the bane of my 3rd grade existence, and once I got into computer work and it was considered preferable to print, I was much happier. Part of my problem his that I have a familial tremor, so that small squiggly lines become even more squiggly when executed by me.

That said, I do value writing by hand. Almost all my non-fiction writing (mostly plays, but also short story and the odd poem) is done by hand. There's something about having the space and the connection that just works well for me.

Of course, I love my computer for editing, and if I had to give up one or the other, I'd sacrifice the pen for the computer, but for me, creativity and the pen go hand in hand.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:11 AM on October 8, 2012


Interesting that so many identify having issues with handwriting but don't acknowledge that lack of practice is what causes most of them. Of course it's going to be unreadable, slow and hurt if you only properly write a couple of times per year.

Speaking only for myself, I wrote in class every day for years and years, and abandoned it because, despite that practice, I still never took to it. I'm sure that if I devoted a lot of time to it I would improve relative to what I can do right now, but then it becomes a question of return on investment: if I have to choose between spending an hour writing out things I would otherwise type in significantly less time and, say, spending that time practicing the piano, I'm definitely going to choose the latter. I think I can probably make more people (including myself) happy with a well-performed song than handwriting that has improved from "bad" to "mediocre."
posted by Kosh at 10:12 AM on October 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't remember doing that part of the GRE (it's all sort of a blur) but since I can't write in cursive I must have printed it.
posted by octothorpe at 10:13 AM on October 8, 2012


Oh, man, the GRE. I took that this year, and there's this thing you have to write out at the beginning, swearing that you're not, like, cheating or something. Couple of long paragraphs. It insists that you write in cursive. I haven't written that much cursive at one time in 15 years; it was painful, literally and figuratively. I felt like I'd failed the first section before I started.
posted by gurple at 10:17 AM on October 8, 2012


As a lefty I was fucking ecstatic when typing became the expected practice for most forms of writing.

Of course it's going to be unreadable, slow and hurt if you only properly write a couple of times per year.

All through grade school and until I graduated high school handwriting was the norm. So I was doing it every day, not just "a couple of times per year." My handwriting never changed. I was always the slowest in the class, it always hurt like hell, the page was always smeared and it always looked pretty terrible compared to my fellow students. I still remember in fourth grade (when they were still grading handwriting) bringing my report card home: I had "A" grades in every subject but in handnwriting I had a C-.

Maybe it's just a southpaw thing (or maybe just a 'me' thing) but I really do not enjoy handwriting.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:19 AM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like Kosh I have been forced to practice my handwriting, and while it did improve it was still very poor.

My mother (A kindergarten teacher who for 40 years has taught kids how to write properly) still can't watch me write anything because I just do it wrong. I have probably 4 or 5 different versions of marking each letter depending on which letter precedes it. To correclty write a lowercase i you start at the top of the longer bit and go down then go back to the top for the jot. Sometimes I write the jot first, and then continue on down, sometimes I start at the bottom and hit the jot as I am heading to the next letter. The letter t is the same way sometimes down then across, other times across then down, frequently the across bit will have a slope either downwards or upwards depending on teh letters surrounding it and where the pen needs to be to start it.

On the plus side I can read my writing very well and can also write it very fast. No one ele could read it and be able to differentiate between my r's and v's, or a's and u's, or q's y's or p's.
posted by koolkat at 10:24 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only time I ever cheated on anything in school was because of handwriting. We had to memorize a bunch of trigonometric identities and then write them out within five minutes. I had them down cold, but I couldn't write that fast, even with the book right in front of me.

I cheated by writing down all the easy ones (from memory) before we started. My grade in the class was right on the line, and cheating probably saved me a half-grade in the class, which conceivably got me into the college I went to and changed the course of my life.

I felt like a horrible person for doing it, and I've never forgiven handwriting for making me feel that way. So, once again, rot in hell, handwriting.
posted by gurple at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Interesting that so many identify having issues with handwriting but don't acknowledge that lack of practice is what causes most of them. Of course it's going to be unreadable, slow and hurt if you only properly write a couple of times per year.

Nope. Slow and messy even though I did it every weekday and most weekends from when I was ~8 until teachers finally stopped pretending it mattered sometime in high school.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not too long ago I opened up one of those boxes - you know - the ones packed with part of your past? In it were rubber-band wrapped letters and cards that my parents; grandparents; friends had all written me when I was an away-from-home freshman in college in 1972. I sat in 2012 like a little kid who had just received THE best present - and read and FELT and remembered through the paper and the handwriting - each of the wonderful people from my past (and with the exception of my father - my grandparents and mother are in my past now too) that had written them.

I vowed then and there to make sure that once a month at least I *write* something the old-fashioned way to my grandchildren.

Because I'm sorry ~ an e-mail or a typed anything will never, ever, ever ~ produce sensual memories in the way those old letters and cards did.
posted by cdalight at 10:32 AM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I blog family stuff, and that blog is something I'll keep around forever. I'm hoping that the interspersion of pictures and video with text -- with thoughtfulness in the arrangement that could not have been achieved by stuffing pictures in an envelope with a letter -- will do just as nicely as handwriting for conveying emotion to my grandkids who open their virtual Boxes of Old Stuff as adults.

Actually, it'll do quite a bit better. My actual handwriting would convey one message only: gurple writes terribly. That's not a message I want to deliver over and over to anybody.
posted by gurple at 10:37 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I learned cursive in second grade, hated it, thought it was fiddly and hard to read, and stopped using it as soon as I was allowed to. (Seriously, the biggest problem for me is that there are no examples in the wild, so it never got any easier to translate. I can read Britannian Runes more fluidly than English in cursive.)

But I compose exclusively in longhand, which is a terrible habit because it adds about 50% to my writing time, since I have to transcribe it. I wish I could drop it, but the ideas just don't flow the same way from a keyboard. There's something about the act of holding a pen that triggers a whole mindset. I've written two novels that way so far, in tiny (12-point or less - when I type it up I often get more pages out of the typed version) mostly-illegible chicken scratch. I have a tendency to use HTML to indicate bold or italics, which looks damned odd on paper.

I can print neatly and legibly - that, I did learn and had to use for years and years. And my personal muse requires ink and paper. But I still hate cursive.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:38 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My hand-writing, whether cursive or block letters is illegible. I can't even read it. This has always been true, all the way back to the beginning of letter-writing.

Mrs Chesborough of Dow's Prairie Elementary, if you're not dead yet, and if you happen to be a MetaFilter reader, all those many times you made me skip recess to practice row after row of "r's" and "n's" and "p's and "q's" did not make my hand any more legible. It drove the fear and resentment down deep.

Mr Johnson at Bella Vista Elementary (7th grade) possessed the superior pedagogy: "Ask your parents to buy you a typewriter. Please."

So, kids. Have fun with your fancy neo-penmanship revival. I sincerely hope it brings you happiness and fulfillment. I'll see you at recess.
posted by notyou at 10:42 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have, at various points over my pen-holding life, been taught the following handwriting styles: Cursive, Calligraphy, Italic, Drafting Lettering, Architectural Lettering. I use none of them on a regualr basis any more and my natural handwriting is a sloppy melange of all these styles. People look at my writing with a mixture of confusion, revulsion and awe, much like they're witnessing a grotesque new creature pop out of nearby hole and begin to gesticulate wildly, almost as if it was trying to communicate.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:44 AM on October 8, 2012


This resonated with me:

"Why write by hand? There is a state of mind which is not accessible by thinking. It seems to require a participation with something physical we move like a pen or a pencil. Something which is in motion, even ordinary motion like writing the alphabet. Or you can tap your fingers 26 times on plastic buttons. This is motion but in the motion there are no variables." - Lynda Barry, WHAT IT IS
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


So what Lynda Barry is saying is that people with physical disabilities that render them unable to write with a pen cannot access parts of their brain that able bodied people can? That's fucking bullshit.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's sort of a ridiculously harsh interpretation.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:57 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


No it's not. How are people who are physically unable to write supposed to feel about that statement?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:03 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spending a year in an antiquated Algerian school in the late 1960s meant I had the unique experience of learning to write cursive with an inkwell, a steel-nibbed pen, and blotter paper. It did teach me to write beautifully, and I benefited from that for years afterward, in the pre-computer days, when I handed in school assignments which got better grades because they looked pretty. However, I can definitely see that my handwriting has deteriorated in the last couple of decades.

I've also benefited from the fact that I spent several years doing genealogy research by transcribing 19th century census records, so now I'm capable of deciphering just about any form of English-language script.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 11:05 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, kinda harsh.

Barry's overall point is that interaction with physical objects in the world (such as a pen) enables other kinds of thinking. Lots of other kinds of interactions with objects in the world enable other kinds of thinking. Those of us who are unable to wield a pen (or wield one well) have alternatives to pursue.

Barry also happens to be a cartoonist. If interaction with pen and paper do not open other parts of her brain, she's out of work.
posted by notyou at 11:05 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ridiculously harsh, maybe. But accurate just the same.

There is a state of mind which is not accessible by thinking. The same can be said of many things, bigotry and denial are two of which that spring forth given the recent events in the world.

It's nice to be able to read and write on paper. But let's not make it more than it is. It's nice. That's it. No more so than being able to grow pretty flowers in a pot.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:06 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Barry's writing about her creative method, not dictating a moral calculus by which the people of the world are to be judged and defined. We don't holler at William Carlos Williams for being the kind of slimeball who would run off with someone's plums, we can maybe not freak out at Lynda Barry for talking about why she likes using a pen.
posted by cortex at 11:08 AM on October 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


I love handwriting. That is, I love *my* handwriting. I clearly remember wanting to have good-looking handwriting when I was little, and I took great pains to achieve my goal. I take pride in that.

Most other people's handwriting looks so awful that I feel sorry for them. I think, "How can you be so careless?"

Yes, typing can be much faster, but speed isn't everything. Sometimes, forcing yourself to slow down and think carefully before you commit your thoughts to paper is a valuable exercise.

(I know, I know - I sound smug and insufferable. In my defence, I'm a professional writer, and this is one of the things that matters to me.)
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:10 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm a lefty. I also enjoy my handwriting, although it's only completely legible to me. In many ways, I prefer the free-form nature of writing, sketching, drawing lines, connecting sentences and bullet points, etc that I do almost subconsciously while using a notebook.

Since I started to learn to write Chinese characters, I've found my patience, as it were, with my own handwriting is improved, as well as my attention while writing.

While I always finish on a computer (using iA Writer because Word drives me bonkers), I always write my arguments and trains of thought out on several sheets of paper I shuffle around. You might suggest I use Scrivener or similar software, but I prefer the tactile sensation of pen (or in my case, mechanical pencil) to typing. As mentioned upthread, decoupling from the sheer immediacy of the computer helps in thinking things through.

But for everyday communication? Always on the computer or cell phone. I don't even send postcards.
posted by flippant at 11:19 AM on October 8, 2012


restless_nomad: I have a tendency to use HTML to indicate bold or italics, which looks damned odd on paper.

Hah! I do the same exact thing. Whenever someone sees my manuscript pages and notices an <i> they always make a weird noise. I've never been sure how to interpret those noises.
posted by Kattullus at 11:19 AM on October 8, 2012


I've been trying to learn proper penmanship for years now but haven't been able to find a single book for adults (with the exception of books on calligraphy).

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain used to have a section on improving your handwriting, though they may have taken it out in subsequent editions to the one I have. I'd check it out, anyway, if I were you.
posted by orange swan at 11:21 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked as a reader and scribe for blind people for about four years, so I have some experience with how blind people compose text. I not only wrote down what they asked me to write, but I would also sit with them doing other tasks while they wrote on a computer.

One thing I noticed is that they wrote on a computer very differently from how they would write while dictating (note: the people I worked with used "to write" in both instances, just as they would use the verb "to see" figuratively, as in "I saw a movie" or "I saw Joe a few days ago"). On a computer there would be a lot of checking what they'd written, a lot of deleting and rewriting, but when dictating they would stop and think, and then give me a whole sentence to write down. The feel of the texts would be very different. The dictated text was generally much more fluid and clear than the typed text. I've noticed the same thing with me as regards handwritten and typed text, which is one reason why I prefer to write with pen on paper when I'm writing fiction or poetry (I've tried dictating software, but I never got the hang of it).

So different modes of writing are very much available to people unable to make personal use of pen and paper.
posted by Kattullus at 11:30 AM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I write with cursive every day during the week at work. It helps me focus during meetings and recall better simply by the act of noting items on paper. I like the craftsmanship of it; using a fountain pen or fine liner to mark up paper helps me pick out the salient point. I've noticed that my handwriting improves if I use a weightier pen rather than a light ballpoint as it seems to calm my scribbles down.
posted by arcticseal at 11:47 AM on October 8, 2012


I was never taught to use cursive. I switched schools at just the wrong moment; they taught cursive one year earlier in my old school than in my new one. I could never quite remember how to write a capital Q.

Sometime midway through undergrad I switched to printing and never looked back. I can do it pretty fast and it's legible to people other than me.

I have no idea why doctors don't print. It would save lives.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:58 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have awful handwriting, and nothing has been able to improve it. The biggest improvement I've made was when I managed to fully differentiate by cursive lower-case b's and f's. Years of writing that way did not help - I used this skill daily without change. I think it's just a dexterity thing - the same way that I'm an not physically predisposed to be an excellent basketball player, becoming an excellent handwriter would take a monumental effort from me. This is probably why I play drums and sing but I found guitar endlessly frustrating.

So I echo all the "good riddance, typing is faster, neater, and easier to back up & disseminate" comments. In fact, in high school and college as typed papers became the norm, I would joke about how nice it will be for people like me when we never have to handwrite things again. I was joking, and now welcome to the future – I type everything and take notes on my smartphone when I would have been jotting ugly scribbles. And with Google Docs on my phone, I now finally have everything in one place. I could never keep an organized notebook and planner until they were electronic. My first PDA transformed me from a mess to an organized person almost overnight. And writing for more than 20 minutes can be really painful - I can type for an hour or more, and now that I have dictation software from Nuance on my phone I can fluidly dictate pages and pages of text much faster than I can write and

I think I would have done better in school if I could have taken notes on a computer. My notes were a mess. My electronic notes now are much easier to digest. And for me, the act of typing helps me remember facts just as well as handwriting. Sometimes I’ll re-type notes just to help me memorize things. I could never handwrite that, I’d get frustrated and quit.

That said, I do hope that schools keep teaching handwriting whether it’s print or script (I always use cursive, but that’s just because I got used to it). Even for a super-connected person like me, there are times when you need to handwrite something. I support big software go lives. These are hectic times, and there's just no way that I could use a laptop or smartphone for notes. I jot notes until I can capture them in a permanent, electronic format. Or there are times when you need a physical book (say, when camping or travelling somewhere with spotty electricity) and you need a way to quickly capture notes in a non-electronic format. So I hope that typing becomes and remains the primary method of capturing text (arguably it already is), but we maintain handwriting the same way that email hasn’t completely replaced in-person meetings or phone calls. Each tool has its time.

Also, I would never insist that other people do things my way. If handwriting makes you happy, is faster for you, or helps your creativity, go for it! There's room enough for all of us. (That said, if you're the note-taker for a meeting and you handwrite the notes, don't you dare send out scans. People need searchable text)
posted by Tehhund at 11:59 AM on October 8, 2012


Also, I have to disagree with people who say that handwritten notes inherently create a more visceral response. For me, it's the opposite. Handwritten notes - of which I have many saved - are an oddity to me, cute but ultimately cumbersome and a bit difficult to decipher. Old emails from my parents or SO? I love them, and I really feel the connection. It's almost like the paper and deciphering the writing are barriers between me and the people on the other end. A heartfelt email lets me ignore the medium and focus on the message.

Plus, emails are forever if you want them to be. I have love emails and love letters. Guess which ones I view and reminisce about more frequently? The accessible, easy-to read ones. Guess which ones had to be toted around in boxes each time I moved, got musty, and eventually I chose to throw out when I started a new relationship? I will probably have very few love letters in my possession in 40 years, but I may reasonably have every love email I've ever received, and that makes me happy.
posted by Tehhund at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"it seems more like a quaint, nostalgic ability, like bread baking or butter churning, than something you actually need to function."

Students who handwrite notes tend to retain the information better than students who type notes. (Typing, of course, allows one to sort and edit and reorganize notes far more easily.) Children who are "kinesthetic" learners really struggle in lecture- or discussion-type classes (instead of hands-on lab-type classes) if they take notes on computer instead of by hand. Doesn't matter a whole lot if it's cursive or print; just something students can do reasonably quickly, which usually means some letters at least partly joined-up.

I am a super-fast typist and a slow and messy handwriter (When I learned cursive, when you got "good" enough, you were allowed to write on every line of the page instead of every other; I have a vivid memory of my third-grade teacher holding up my sloppy, sloppy cursive page and saying "Eyebrows is the only girl who still has to write on every other line, because she writes like a BOY," to the ENTIRE CLASS) but I learned in law school (where they strongly recommended we take all lecture notes on laptop and had installed power outlets and ethernet ports at every seat to that end! fancy!) that taking notes on a computer was a one-way ticket to failing to retain anything from lecture. I HAD to handwrite to retain -- even though frequently I could not re-read my notes later. But I didn't need to, because writing them the first time made them stick. Even though I'm an adult and everyone can use laptops these days, I make sure to take yellow pads and pens to meetings I suspect will be boring or very complicated so that I will pay better attention and retain the material better. Also doodling arrows and monsters on your paper is somehow more socially acceptable than playing solitaire on your computer. (Although, for me, it's easier to pay attention while doodling than when I get sucked into something on the computer.)

It's an important study tool that should probably be taught to children until they are competent, though probably not graded and certainly people's science grades shouldn't depend on their handwriting.

I have to say my handwriting still isn't neat enough for my third-grade teacher to let me write on every line. But oh well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:02 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: It's an important study tool that should probably be taught to children until they are competent, though probably not graded and certainly people's science grades shouldn't depend on their handwriting.

Even though I am a huge advocate for typing EVERYTHING and am happily eliminating handwriting from my life as much as possible (thank-you notes are always handwritten in my world, but most everything else is negotiable), I have to agree on this point. There are uses for both typing and handwriting, and handwriting isn't completely going away for a very long time. For some people, it will remain very useful, and it needs to be taught. I don't think you need to be graded on neatness, just the ability to draw the letters well enough that the student themself can read it.

(That said, the same is true of typing. Neither is an optional skill at this point. But no one is saying that in this thread :)
posted by Tehhund at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2012


A few studies have shown that learning good handwriting skills is good for childrens' brain development. Brain imaging research at Indiana University showed that kids who wrote letters engaged more areas of their brain than children who typed those same letters, and that college students who transcribed passages in cursive were more likely to remember them. Research at Florida International University showed that kids who scored higher on fine motor activities including writing scored higher on reading and math skills as well (though the causation / correlation on that does not seem to have been clearly sorted).

Also, numerous studies have shown that the quality of a person's handwriting affects how people judge the things a person writes. For example I've read that standardized test scorers unconsciously give higher marks to essays that are written with nice writing; employers are more likely to hire people who fill out applications with nice writing, etc.

In many European countries kids learn cursive first, before printing, because cursive is considered easier than printing. I know that seems strange from an American perspective, but it's harder to mistakenly reverse cursive letters than print letters, for one thing.

I am left-handed and have always had slight motor planning issues, so the handwriting deck was stacked against me even before I met the lovely teacher in second grade who insisted on the day we started cursive that I would never have nice handwriting because I was a leftie and left-handed people are incapable of learning to write.

In fact I wound up hating that teacher so much that I vowed to stop writing cursive the minute it was no longer required of me, and I did. I printed everything but my signature all through high school and college.

But now I'm a parent. My son has a severe motor skills delay. Handwriting has been very difficult for him to master, and has caused him no end of trouble in school (they still DO do handwritten worksheets in school these days, you know -- it's not all on the computer). When he was just trying to muddle through in public preschool kindergarten, with no formal writing instruction to speak of, he struggled miserably with worksheets. When we switched to a private school for kids with special needs, and he started getting special cursive instruction using the Loops and Other Groups handwriting program, which was specifically designed by an occupational therapist for kids with motor and learning difficulties, his handwriting improved REMARKABLY. His overall level of fine motor control has improved (meaning everything from using a fork to zipping a jacket). His printing is still a little on the chicken scratch side, but it's more legible than it was before and much faster. His cursive is beautiful. And you know what? He loves doing it! He loves making the "fancy" letters. (I suspect because we've been lucky enough that no handwriting teacher has ever made him feel like learning them was a chore.)

So cursive and I get along better these days.
posted by BlueJae at 12:12 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have no idea why doctors don't print. It would save lives.

Actually, having seen some people’s print I think it’s more accurate to say that if physicians never handwrote anything again, that would save lives.

This is maybe the only time that writing vs typing is literally a life-and-death issue. CMS and insurers are already forcing a move to typed notes and discreet prescriptions, and the old guard of MDs is up in arms. The resistance is nearly criminal, for reasons I’ll explain below. Fortunately, this resistance lessens every year as people get on board and as the tools get better.

Remember how I support software go lives? I once watched a nurse try to read a bunch of handwritten orders and order sets. Every single sheet of orders had at least 1 thing that wasn't clear or was illegible. Medication doses were unclear; frequency and timing was unclear; physicians prescribed treatments but left out details that a computerized system would have required. It was 1 AM and getting clarifications on all of these would require calling every single MD who rounded in that unit. There was no way the nurse was going to wake every single one of them up, so she guessed on most of them or paged the on-call for help, in hopes that the on-call could give a better guess.

This is not the way a healthcare system should work. Guesses about treatments should be extremely rare, not happen at least once for every patient. Most of the guesses are fine – but every once in a while it’s not and someone gets hurt.

So yeah: down with handwriting in a professional setting and as a shared medium of communication. Typed notes should be the standard for everything, especially medicine. Handwriting your own notes or handwriting to get your creative juices? Great, go for it! But not when it needs to be shared. And definitely not when it's important info like whether to give 40 mgs or 50 mgs.
posted by Tehhund at 12:23 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to learn proper penmanship for years now but haven't been able to find a single book for adults (with the exception of books on calligraphy).

I recommend briem.net; I read that site, printed out the model sheets, and practiced for about half an hour a day for a month. Totally fixed my handwriting.
posted by kprincehouse at 12:25 PM on October 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I was informed (punitively) by the nuns that, because of my horrible handwriting, I'd find it hard to get a job.

I had undiagnosed myopia.

I hope those loveless Catholic hellspawn are all dead and in their graves, and won't shed a tear for the demise of cursive.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:25 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Spending a year in an antiquated Algerian school in the late 1960s meant I had the unique experience of learning to write cursive with an inkwell, a steel-nibbed pen, and blotter paper. It did teach me to write beautifully, and I benefited from that for years afterward, in the pre-computer days, when I handed in school assignments which got better grades because they looked pretty.

Every so often, I come across a card or letter my mother sent me back in the day. The hand she learned was so elegant and enflourished as to make the cursive I learned look like longhand comic sans. And the hand of my great aunts look like the hands in which those soldiers' letters, shown in Ken Burns's The Civil War, were written. To be able to read those letters in the hands in which they were written is imcomparable to reading them in type. There is so much within and between the lines.

Barry's overall point is that interaction with physical objects in the world (such as a pen) enables other kinds of thinking. Lots of other kinds of interactions with objects in the world enable other kinds of thinking. Those of us who are unable to wield a pen (or wield one well) have alternatives to pursue.

To be able to do anything that requires skill requires time and practice. Practice, practice, practice. And who has the time in these latter point and click days ?

I think that being able play an instrument with enough competence as make music that flows has added so much to my experience. It's like the difference between being able to paint a landscape with being able to paint a paint by numbers landscape. And it has added so much to my ability to hear music.

But it takes so much more practice to maintain the same level of competence that once came easily to me and between the lack of time and how much I can practice when I can practice, before it becomes painful, due to arthritis and carpal tunnel, that I am slowly losing ground. And I experience it as a loss.

As I have experienced the erosion of my handwriting. Admittedly, to a much lesser extent, but, all the same, as a loss.
posted by y2karl at 12:57 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed this piece, because it said so many things on the topic that I've been thinking for years now.

I absolutely love cursive writing. I love how once you know someone's writing well, you can intuit their emotional state at the time of writing. If my mom writes me a note in cursive, I know just at a glance how she was feeling when she wrote it. I love how slow it is, and I don't think that, in this case, slowness=inefficiency (in fact, I think in some way it is more efficient, because it conveys so much more).

Recently, I wrote a fairly confessional letter to a female friend who I have long-admired as someone I want to date. She's younger--mid 20s--and she seemed shocked that I would hand write a 4 page letter. To me, that was absolutely the only way to do it, but to her, it was a weird thing to do (the cursive, not the confessing of love). Really made me realize just how quickly the shift to typing happened, and really made me sad for the death of penmanship.

I write at least a page of cursive every single day, in the form of notes to myself. I always try to improve my hand, and I take serious pride in the results. I'm glad to do it, and I never intend to stop.
posted by broadway bill at 1:20 PM on October 8, 2012


What blew my mind when I learned cursive is "A good y is a good h upside down." It makes no sense in type.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I usually prefer to take written notes in class, because I find carrying a laptop/tablet tends to distract me from the class. Although, I could be organized with digital notes than I could be with regular notebooks.

I was recommended to type all my essays, so I haven't handwritten a essay for awhile. I think my elementary school still teaches cursive as a alternative form of writing and signatures.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 1:47 PM on October 8, 2012


Metafilter: a highly cultivated pastime for the generations that follow.
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:06 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: mostly boil down to superstition and conformity.
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I learned to create well-formed cursive when I decided to return to school at 30, after having not written with a pen and paper since college. Not only do I love using a fountain pen, but my adult handwriting is significantly more legible than that of my youth. Both handwriting and typing are vital skills; we are poorer for not creating and reading the written word absent a glowing screen.
posted by ellF at 2:10 PM on October 8, 2012


When print first emerged in Western Europe, the printers marketed it as "artificial script". Glad to see the nostalgia for hand-writing is still going strong.
posted by kariebookish at 2:10 PM on October 8, 2012


Do none of you ever leave notes for anyone?
Apart from turning 40 I'm also turning into your get-of-my-lawn grumpy old neigbour, so age and disposition might have something to do with it, but I seriously - I can't imagine a day without at least writing someting down. How do you do that? How does that work?

Explain it to me like I'm... well... 40.
posted by Sourisnoire at 2:36 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


The editors of The Guardian didn't help me take Hensher's argument seriously by using this photo caption at the top: "A postcard written by Hitler in January 1915. His writing style indicates his megalomaniacal psychopathy, say graphologists."

I didn't see anything by Hensher to directly support that. I only skimmed the article, because I didn't find it particularly compelling. And the reminder up front that all kinds of ridiculous claims about the importance of handwriting had preceded this set didn't increase my patience for Hensher's opinion.
posted by layceepee at 2:45 PM on October 8, 2012


Do none of you ever leave notes for anyone?

No really very often. I text, IM, send an email, post to Facebook or G++ or create a calendar entry if I need someone to know something.
posted by octothorpe at 2:46 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because I'm sorry ~ an e-mail or a typed anything will never, ever, ever ~ produce sensual memories in the way those old letters and cards did.

This may be true for you but it is not a universal truth. I have handwritten letters from old girlfriends and I have stored emails and IM logs from old girlfriends, and they produce the same effect. The memories are the memories and these aren't tied up in the actual format of the thing.
posted by honestcoyote at 2:46 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I learned how to write using a pencil at the age of four. Later in school, we were provided with steel nibs and every desk had an inkwell. Every class had an ink monitor whose job was to see that the inkwells were topped up. The posh kids even had blotting paper but such luxuries were not for us kids from the Home. The written stuff was of course terrible. Blots and smudges covered the pages, crossed out mistakes stood out on the page. Few could even spell. Postwar England. Even paper was scarce. Then biros (ballpoint pens) appeared. Again not for us at the Children's Home. They were banned later after cases of blood poisoning resulted from tattoo attempts.

Later, at grammar school, I was severely reprimanded by the only teacher I liked for my atrocious handwriting. I therefore resolved to improve it. Hours of concentration I perfected a version of Chancery Cursive. Elegant, legible and ultimately fast.

That was 60 years ago.

I still use it. That and calligraphy. I can now afford beautiful paper, Indian inks and delightfully designed pens. Sadly my ductus deteriorates without constant use just as my finger-picking does.

Throughout the years I have produced brochures, book covers, love letters, menus, wedding invitations, posters, signs, report covers, jam labels and such just for the fun of it.

Its a satisfying skill and I love it.

Nice to read this post and realize I'm not alone in this world.

Even if I was it would hardly matter though
posted by jan murray at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


Another leftie chiming in with "burn all the handwriting away". Writing is words. When handwritten, at best you can read it just like you can when typed, otherwise it's "What does this say?". The words are where the meaning is. My ideal world would have paper that takes whatever I write and converts it to clear, font-printed text.

((Doesn't help that I have absolutely terrible handwriting. It's not coincidental that my grades in English courses improved as I was allowed to use computers more.))

Writing forces me to focus on the act of writing, rather than the concept I want to write. And it's the idea that's important. Unless I'm writing for myself, in which case years of practice flowing debates has left me with a shorthand of my own. More unreadable to anyone else than normal, but I can keep up with the fastest speakers that way. Though I have been toying with a syntax scheme for Sublime Text 2 that's designed for note-taking and debate flow. Then I'd be able to flow 4 speeches at once, each expanding shell arguments out and highlighting structures as I go.

Also, typing is the best way to take notes for me. Especially in math courses. I can flow Calc 3 lectures live with LaTeX and Markdown notation, and when I'm done I just hit 'save' and it's pages of gorgeous equations, precise and perfect.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:02 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I leave notes for my wife all the time. Texts are impersonal, poorly misspelled on account of Swype and/or character limits, and sterile. A few lines and a hastily-drawn sketch conveys more love than your iWhatever.
posted by ellF at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I fall on both sides (or are there 26 sides?) of this issue. I grew up pre-computer. I learned to type on a manual typewriter and later moved to an electric. I actually asked my parents for a typewriter when I was young. It made my life easier when doing school work. My handwriting wasn't the best, but it wasn't horrific. In college, the computer was still novel enough that I'd get (seemingly) automatic grades of "A" on my assignments simply for their appearance (fonts, graphic covers, lack of correction fluid, etc.). Later in life, I started to wonder about the creative process. Was Hemingway a better or worse write due to the pencil and paper? Was Stephen King better or worse because of the word processor? Did using a pencil stimulate a part of the brain that my PC did not? Did the very act of forming a letter "L" with my pencil require a different portion of the brain than typing it on the keyboard? Did the need to recall how to link that capital "L" with a lower-case "e" somehow nudge my creativity in a way the redundant clacking of keys did not? I finally came to the point where I needed to experiment. I was a child of the handwriting age living in the keyboard age. I was equally comfortable in both worlds. What about my mind? What about my creativity? I did some experimenting (even a VERY brief blog fling) and found that my brain just moved far too quickly for a pen. Maybe all of our brains have evolved in this age of instant everything? We seem to always hunger for more and more and more of everything and want it instantly. I always feel like I am straining to keep pace with my thoughts when I type (and I can type very quickly). We can't even talk about keeping pace with handwriting; it is simply not possible. Writers know that things often start to take on a life of their own. There comes a point where the narrative may lead you along (rather than you leading it) and the best you can hope to do is record the event rather than create it. In these cases, the pencil simply falls short.

But, perhaps there are things I've never discovered because that handwriting portion of my brain is now long-dormant? And, do I really need to write everything I think? Maybe the mindful slowing of time evoked by the pencil is a good thing? Is the pencil a way to distil thoughts rather than let them flow out rough and unrefined? I know that both handwriting and typing are important (for their own reasons). The creative part of forming your own, unique typeface with each motion of your hand is a miracle we all take for granted. Pencils respond instantly to your bidding. When taking notes in class, you instantly switch from letters, to lines, to filling in boxes, to drawing sweeping arrows, to solving equations, to creating brilliant illustrations. Microsoft Word can't keep up with that pace. But, Microsoft Word allows you to pour out your heart without the inborn filter bred by the pen. There are no worries about spelling errors, or using the wrong form of a word, or the wrong tense. Margins are insignificant. Grammar is a quaint notion. All of those things and more can be managed later. Right now, the most important thing is getting the words down on (virtual) paper. Once the entire thought has been birthed, the nurturing can occur. Yes, this is also possible with handwriting, but at a much greater cost to time and creativity (in my opinion). Margins can be changed, fonts can be tested, grammar checks can be run and re-run. Yes, you can even proof-read the old-fashioned way with a computer (how quaint). After much thought on this subject, much trial, even more error and the toying with the idea that there might be a book in to be written on the subject, I finally let it go. The world doesn't care so much for the pencil any longer. Children love them, but they love computers as well. I just let it all go and decided not to take sides.

These days I use fancy pencils and pens in fancy notebooks whenever I am able. I mainly use a fancy Tablet PC and an Android tablet with an actual stylus that works wonderfully. But, I don't think there will ever be a replacement for a well-crafted keyboard as it relates to my creative process. Certainly, nothing feels like paper. Nothing is more romantic than thinking that the person you love actually formed those letters and touched the very same page that you are touching right now. There is something about the idea that you were so valued that they took the time to get that paper and pen and write out all those words. It is deliberate beyond email in the same way email is deliberate beyond text messages. But, for now, the keyboard will be my main channel of output in this world of the urgent impulse to communicate. I'm sure I'll change that thought when they release the neuro-implant device that will vomit my unexpurgated thoughts onto a screen. Until then, I'll champion both methods.

/TLDR I think both methods are very important for different reasons and should be embraced whenever possible.
posted by FrankBlack at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2012


I see something unfolding as I read these responses. Not only what appears to be an obvious generation gap (I'm 58 for perspective) - but also a turning away by a generation from "feel" That's not a criticism; it's an observation.

Our youngest son was born in 85' - he is now a Loss Prevention DM for a retail chain. He is very, very good at what he does, in no small part because he is a classic computer child ... raised in the age of Prodigy; his idea of a great summer camp was the one offered by the local computer training center for kids. He has an uber-logical brain; is a whiz at any computer/techno anything, and I'm lucky if I get his signature on a birthday card. Everything he does - from letters to reports to casual correspondence ... is done on a technology based device.

Then there's Mom here ~ who could sit on the floor with her previously mentioned treasure of handwritten letters and cards from back when she was in College away from home on her own for the first time, and I can look at my Grandmother from Texas's handwriting (so perfect and precise because she was an English teacher); or my French Grandfather's funny postcards (like deciphering a code to read because his handwriting was so bizarre - but after all those years I'd mastered it); or my Dad's rare but valued letters (precise and clear and easy to read because he was a meticulous airline mechanic supervisor) ... and feel like a real part of them all is still with me. It's a visceral response that I suppose can be gotten from my son's generation and later from an e-mail because of the different experiences and perceptions growing up.

But I'll tell you what ....

I'd rather be able to look at ink on paper in my hand and think, "the person I cared about actually touched this paper - and wrote these words."

That doesn't make me better ~ it serves to show how we are changing ~ because so many here don't think that's important at all.
posted by cdalight at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


No it's not. How are people who are physically unable to write supposed to feel about that statement?

I agree with it.

(I'm not completely physically unable to write, but I'm getting there. These days I'm down to ~20%, and that's only good for about five minutes. I used to be able to take dictation...)

But really I stopped in to link to this WSJ article from two years ago about how writing with a pen benefits the brain.
posted by sneebler at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get the whole 'but what if your cellphone, tablet and notebook's batteries simultaneously die and you need to send instructions to stop a bomb from going off???" thing, but it seems more like a quaint, nostalgic ability, like bread baking or butter churning, than something you actually need to function.

Hmm. I had university exams over the last three years that had to be handwritten. I have architectural printing, but cursive is far quicker when you need to write a three paragraph essay in forty minutes. There's nothing quaint about that experience.

I'm also a lefty, and aside from the smudge issue, my handwriting is fairly decent. I long ago gave up on any "tilt your paper the wrong way" BS because that just made everything weirder and uglier. I write with drafting pencils with decent lead and there's little smudging.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:53 PM on October 8, 2012


Time for another shout-out for the Platinum Carbon Desk Fountain Pen.

Good for drawing, and you can write for hours with it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:11 PM on October 8, 2012


ellF: "I leave notes for my wife all the time. Texts are impersonal, poorly misspelled on account of Swype and/or character limits, and sterile. A few lines and a hastily-drawn sketch conveys more love than your iWhatever."

Notes are great if you have the luxury of time and place to be able to put the note somewhere where your target will see it in time for it to be useful but for the rest of us, text/IM gets the message to the right place instantly so that they can use the information. My wife often doesn't get home from work until 9:30 at night; a sticky note isn't really the best way for me to get in touch with her.
posted by octothorpe at 5:24 PM on October 8, 2012


Oh, man, the GRE. I took that this year, and there's this thing you have to write out at the beginning, swearing that you're not, like, cheating or something. Couple of long paragraphs. It insists that you write in cursive.

That's not the point. You will not fail the test due to writing this section poorly. It's an anti-fraud measure, so you don't write it block letters or something that can't be uniquely identified as your handwriting.

I remember when I took a college board test many years ago. You were told to sign the affidavit at the beginning, swearing to your identity. The guy sitting next to me said he wasn't going to sign it. I asked, "why, you are who you say you are, aren't you?" He said no, he was being paid to take someone else's test. Sheesh.

Anyway, kids had damn well better learn to write legibly. College board tests still have sections that require handwritten essays. We are not supposed to be biased against poor handwriting. But if I can't read your wretched scribbling, you will fail. Your life may be permanently altered, because you could not communicate with one test scorer.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2012


I haven't read the whole thread, but what I haven't seen in the forty or so comments I read was nostalgia for the handwriting of loved ones. My mother's a physician with the stereotypical cursive issues as seen on tv. I keep notes she writes that I can't read because I feel so warm and pleased at her horrible, horrible handwriting I still cannot always read all these years later. Ditto my grandparents, my grandmother's weird punctuation being very hilarious to me (she always put all names in quote mark, she signed cards "grandma").
posted by syncope at 5:30 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not the point. You will not fail the test due to writing this section poorly.

I don't think that's accurate. You lose marks if it takes you longer to write down your essays than the time available - you might compensate by spending less time planning the essay. Being able to do handwriting rapidly gives you an advantage in essay exams, so in that respect you are being tested on your handwriting.
posted by anonymisc at 5:36 PM on October 8, 2012


I find handwriting to be rather like playing an instrument. It's a largely non-essential skill, and those who do it well are in no way morally superior than those who do it poorly. There are lots and lots of people for who can't do it, and they get along just fine. Plenty of others receive lessons, often reluctantly, and while some are lifelong virtuosos and some just dabble, still others--perhaps most?--simply drift away over time and only associate the act with hours of tedious practice. Just like playing an instrument, unless you're exceptionally good at it, it's probably not really an obvious part of your life. You might use it to try to impress a girl, but you wouldn't list it on your resume. Does that mean your teachers were wasting your time by teaching you? That your parents were wrong for forcing you to practice? I'd say, absolutely not.

Like musical training, I firmly believe that handwriting is the kind of early childhood education that has the ability to influence the mind in ways which are difficult to define, but still utterly pervasive. It may not be strictly necessary as a means of written communication anymore, but even leaving aside any imagined poetic or poignant cultural aspects, the secondary benefits of handwriting, like providing structured attention to detail and fine motor control training, just to name a couple, strike me as well worth the effort. Even if you don't use it that often, simply possessing the skill leaves invisible marks on your brain and colors the rest of the things you do. The specific role of handwriting may be changing, but like art or music, it can act as a lens through which we both experience and create culture on a deeply personal level, and I think that makes it well worth preserving. In this modern day and age, handwriting still has its place, even if I have to type out its defense on my computer.

Disclaimer: I can't play the piano worth a damn, but I do have excellent penmanship.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:49 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Writing long hand is only one thing for me: pain. I've had arthritis in my prime writing hand since I was 16 (likely developed before then), and to be forced to write something by hand is the equivalent to having every knuckle in my hand pounded with a hammer for hours, over and over again. Yet for years, even up through college, many teachers refused to allow any exception to being forced to write everything in class by hand. I even had multiple professors who taught programming who made students write exams (coding programs and snip-its of code) by hand.

Writing by hand has never been pleasurable for me. Writing long hand is pain, pure and simple. I associate it with nothing else, and avoid doing it like some people avoid the dentist. Fetishize it all you want, but remember that some people consider the digital written word a godsend.
posted by strixus at 6:07 PM on October 8, 2012


I don't think that's accurate. You lose marks if it takes you longer to write down your essays than the time available - you might compensate by spending less time planning the essay. Being able to do handwriting rapidly gives you an advantage in essay exams, so in that respect you are being tested on your handwriting.

No, that's not what I we're talking about. This is just referring to the handwritten affidavit that you are who you claim to be. This section is not scored. Even if writing it in cursive takes time away from the test itself, that time is negligible. It's only a short paragraph, you don't have to create it, only copy it.

What I mean is, I frequently see long essays that are absolutely illegible due to poor handwriting. If I can't read it at all, I have to give it the lowest score. If I can read parts of it, I can't give more credit for quality in the illegible parts than the legible parts. If the scorer can't read your handwriting, your message will not get through and you will score poorly. It's better to block print slowly than to scribble cursive quickly and illegibly.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:07 PM on October 8, 2012


Ah, right. I misunderstood.
posted by anonymisc at 6:21 PM on October 8, 2012


Fuck handwriting. Not only should they outlaw pencils and pens, they should outlaw electronic devices with styluses, too. Fuck styluses. And I fucking mean it. Fuck fucking goddamn styluses. Every time I see a device that has a stylus, I think, "oh fuck, we're going back to this?!" The whole point of technology was to invent a way to communicate that didn't involve fucking handwriting, and they go and use a stylus? I'm scared shitless over here. Will this become a thing? Are they going to make me fucking use a stylus in the future? Well, if so, I'm going to boycott the fucking future then!

In short :

1) Fuck handwriting
2) Fuck anything that necessitates handwriting
3) Fuck cursive
4) Fuck cursive
5) Fuck cursive
6) Fuck my third grade teacher who forced me to learn the useless fucking skill known as cursive, and then gave me a D in handwriting for the privilege.
7) Fuck holding a pen, pencil or stylus, and that cramped grouchy feeling it gives my hand
8) Fuck smudged paper
9) Fuck having to read other peoples' handwriting
10) In short, fuck handwriting

My fucking awful, mean, humiliating teachers made fun of my handwriting. One called it "chicken scratch". Another was giving back our homework one day, and called out to the class, "Leery Long? I have Leery Long's paper. Who's Leery Long?" Said it with a big shiteating grin on his face. He knew it was me. Pigfucker was just having a little "fun".

Fuck handwriting.

Pretty much the whole reason I got into computers was so I could use a word processor. Previously I'd have to re-write my homework at 2-3 times before my parents thought it was legible enough to turn in. I was the only 3rd grader in my school in 1984 who typed his homework. Then I got into programming, and what the fuck do you know, years later that turned into a lucrative careers.

So, you know what?

FUCK HANDWRITING.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:08 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I never really learned to write cursive properly. My writing is basically printing. But if you print everything for years and years and you love to write, your hand matures into a kind of cursive anyway. So I don't really see the point of teaching cursive handwriting.

I love writing by hand so much. There is a freedom and spontaneity to working on paper that working a computer can never match. It's a different kind of thinking. And I say this as a digital artist and web designer. It all starts on paper.
posted by oulipian at 10:26 PM on October 8, 2012


On the flip side, I have all these wonderful old letters written by relatives with absolutely amazing penmanship. They're gorgeous to look at -- every one has a style all its own, as if they were different alphabets and letter forms in some forgotten and extra-swirly language.

Except for the occasional word, I cannot read any of them!

Still, they are pretty.
posted by SteelyDuran at 6:05 AM on October 9, 2012


That's not the point. You will not fail the test due to writing this section poorly.

It is not a question of failing the test; if you can't write it in cursive, you will not be allowed to take the test and will forfeit your fees. If significant numbers of students are not being taught a skill that the Educational Testing Service deems essential, there is a bit of a disconnect in our educational system.
posted by TedW at 6:24 AM on October 9, 2012


Why blame the educational system when it's ETS's fault for having an antiquated requirement in their tests?
posted by octothorpe at 6:32 AM on October 9, 2012



Why blame the educational system when it's ETS's fault for having an antiquated requirement in their tests?


I think you can point the finger in either direction but a bigger issue is that the ETS is very much an integral part of the education system in the US.
posted by TedW at 7:39 AM on October 9, 2012


If anything proves I'm right to be looking in old handwriting books to try to improve my own, this thread does it.

Could we be throwing out history any harder or faster? Maybe if we could use it to run a power plant.
posted by DU at 9:43 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what would be the results if left-handed people all learned cursive backwards, a la da Vinci.

I've taken up cursive again because it's easier on my tendinosis than printing. I even tried to find a system of cursive numerals to write down measurements. The complete abandonment of the application of words to paper via pen or pencil, however, would be very foreign to me.
posted by RobotHero at 3:13 PM on October 9, 2012


Metafilter: these aren't tied up in the actual format of the thing.
posted by herbplarfegan at 3:15 PM on October 9, 2012


I hand wrote a response to Afroblanco. (780k PDF)
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:19 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, that's really hard to read, cdf. I got about 1/2 way through the first page and gave up.
posted by octothorpe at 7:14 PM on October 9, 2012


That's why PDFs have zoom.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:36 PM on October 9, 2012


good lord CDS, I got through half a line before I gave up, and I was zoomed in quite far.
posted by rebent at 7:42 PM on October 9, 2012


I could read it but it took a real effort and I'm good at reading bad handwriting. As someone said up thread, "It's better to block print slowly than to scribble cursive quickly and illegibly."
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:38 PM on October 9, 2012


Everyone wants everything handed to them on a silver platter, without making the slightest effort.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:27 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got to "when I was a sausage" and started giggling and gave up. My loony theory is that my synaesthesia gets all screwed up with cursive letterforms and it totally breaks my reading ability.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:45 PM on October 9, 2012


Charlie don't surf, I didn't know you used to be the sausage.
posted by RobotHero at 10:45 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was able to read your whole handwritten note, charlie don't surf. I enjoyed it! Except the lined paper. Lined paper is like locking your handwriting in a jail.

I often post scans of handwritten journals on my blog, most recently paired with photos for a book project I'm working through.
posted by oulipian at 11:13 PM on October 9, 2012


I tried to make the blue lines drop out but was unsuccessful. Cursive writing on a full page is not like scribbling block print in a 5x7 Molskine, you need the guides or else your writing tends to drift up and down. I noticed your writing does this too, even over a narrow page. I was writing in my normal everyday hand. When I take notes for myself and nobody else has to read them, I usually write two lines of text in each line, to save paper. I didn't go to any special pains to make this legible, but it should be easy enough. Apparently not just writing cursive, but reading it also, is becoming a lost art.

I actually do have calligraphy skills, but I prefer not to use them since it makes your handwriting look terribly stilted. If you want to see what I write like when I'm trying to impress you, but still remain casual, I will post an excerpt of an embarrassing love letter that I fortunately had the sense not to send. This is written with a broad-nib italic fountain pen, my preferred formal writing instrument, as I mentioned in my previous note. It is written on 100% rag "memo size" stationery, 5.75" x 7.75". I wrote it freehand, but I'd typically use a ruler well underneath the line, just as a rough guideline, so I don't drift so much.

This is how you write expressively (perhaps expressing a bit too much, in this case). This is the sort of letter you'd put in a box and read decades later. Hell, I wrote this 15+ years ago, never sent it, and it was still sitting in my stationery box. I have every email I ever wrote on my computer right now, going back to before 1992, but I would never bother to look at any of them.

Looking back at this letter, I am rather amused. I wrote this to my French-Japanese girlfriend, after we parted. We used to give each other little notes at school, sticking them in each other's shoes in the entryway lockers. I recall I took some calligraphy classes in Japan at a junior high school, each of us sitting side a teenage girl as a study partner. Calligraphy is considered mostly a womanly art in Japan. Many women take
"enrichment classes" in calligraphy as a hobby. Formal cursive calligraphy is common, and comes in several levels of increasingly difficulty in comprehension. The teacher went around the room swiping samples of our writing almost from under our brushes. I was surprised when the teacher held up two samples at the front of the room, showing them to everyone. One sample was mine, another was from a woman with no experience, sloppy and embarrassingly poor. The instructor asked the room of nearly a hundred people, "which do you think is the man, and which is the woman?" The Japanese people universally picked my writing as the woman, which amused the instructor terribly, since that was his point. He asked me if I had taken any calligraphy classes, I said no, but that I was an artist and I knew how to work a brush. Then the instructor launched into an important lesson that I will never forget.

In Japan, writing with good calligraphy is considered a sign that you are a good person. Good calligraphy is a symbol that you have made a serious effort to communicate well, and are doing so by connecting with their ancient traditions of writing. If you write well, you are a cultured person, and therefore a good person.

I think this is true in general, not just in Japan. Writing in cursive shows respect for the reader, it is a symbol that you have taken pains to learn to write, which you did on their behalf. Unfortunately, those people who cannot read cursive well have decided to reverse the matter, and blame their lack of cultural skills on the writer, rather than themselves and their inexperience with reading handwriting.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:14 AM on October 10, 2012


9) Fuck having to read other peoples' handwriting

I think that your cryptic pdf proves Afroblanco's point better than he did, cds.
posted by octothorpe at 5:27 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find you all puzzling, I did not find cds's writing hard to read at all. Although this makes me fear that my handwriting is way, way worse than I already thought.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:27 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey Charlie, save this for posterity.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:45 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can tell the difference between my day to day scribble and my handwriting when I'm making an effort.

My dad wrote me letters every week when I was at Uni and away from home for the first time. I didn't write back too often, but it meant the world to me. He did it, because it's what his dad did for him when he was away in the RAF in the 1950's. To be honest, his handwriting is worse than mine and we used to have a house competition to decode the scribble into sense; this was mostly down to clues from the weekly call home.

Mrs A and I traded a bunch of letters/packages from when we were long distance dating for 5 years before we got married. Calls weren't cheap and time zones didn't help, not to mention the internet wasn't as central to modern life as it is now.

I still have all those letters in a box somewhere; can't say the same for emails. Letter writing matters.
posted by arcticseal at 1:14 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read it pretty easily too, charlie, but I didn't want to be first to say so (thank you, Eyebrows), yet I did hear much more of a voice in my head than I would've reading machine-printed material, as is usual with handwriting for me, and I could have wished certain passages actually were illegible, though I see I needn't have worried since Afroblanco has clearly taken it in stride.

The day after Christmas when I was in 4th grade, our doorbell rang at 10 am. I was still in pajamas, but my parents were in their bathrobes so I had to answer the door, and found my teacher and the principal of my elementary school standing on the flagstone steps leading up to the door of our glassed in porch, looking nervous but determined and wearing their school clothes, a dress and a black suit and black tie, respectively. He was carrying a black briefcase. They were a very good-looking pair too, with a serious Doris Day, Rock Hudson overtone to them, and were rumored to be a couple, but I had never seen them together before.

I was kind of in shock, but the Southern manners of my parents had rubbed off on me enough that I invited them in instead of slamming the door in their faces, which would have been much more to my liking, since I knew the absolute wall between anything that happened at school and my parents, which I had worked so hard to erect and maintain, was about to suffer a serious breach.

They sat down at the dining room table with my parents, who were each at least 15 years older than either of them and still in their robes, and were offered coffee. But I didn't hear what they had to say because I dressed frantically and ran out of there and didn't come back 'til after sunset (only about 3:30-4:00 PM in Colorado Springs that close to the mountains in late December).

My parents told me then that they'd "stopped by" to urge (beg) my parents to buy me a typewriter, and even offered some kind of teachers-only discount coupon, and said that my writing was so bad that no one thought it would ever be legible enough to allow me to compete assignments in higher grades, and that some of the other teachers they'd shown my writing to were inclined to dispute that it was actual writing, but thought instead that I was imitating writing and hoping nobody would challenge me (I hadn't learned to read until the beginning of 3rd grade, and people didn't believe that either)-- and they supported all this with examples of my work that the principal pulled from his briefcase.
posted by jamjam at 3:49 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that your cryptic pdf proves Afroblanco's point better than he did, cds.

Since you obviously did not read my note, I think I proved my point. People see cursive and go "GRAR CURSIVE ME NO READ. GRAR Mrs Henderson Third grade make me write with pointed stick!" They choose to be less than fully literate, so they take themselves out of the discussion, and in many cases, out of intellectual society. FYI, that handwritten essay would certainly get a top score on the college board exams, and now that I think about it, would probably get a top score in the now-defunct med school entrance exam writing test. And most importantly, despite the text being written rapidly and at length, it is legible.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:29 PM on October 10, 2012


They choose to be less than fully literate, so they take themselves out of the discussion, and in many cases, out of intellectual society.

You know, I'm a long-time fan of hyperbole, and even I think that statement is ridiculous. You, quite literally, no nothing about octothorpe's level of literacy.

FYI, that handwritten essay would certainly get a top score on the college board exams, and now that I think about it, would probably get a top score in the now-defunct med school entrance exam writing test.

Thing about college is once you've gotten your first job after graduation, nobody really gives a fuck what you did in college. Unless you're working at a college.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:31 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's an amazing story, jamjam. What happened then?
posted by Kattullus at 5:46 PM on October 10, 2012


You know, I'm a long-time fan of hyperbole, and even I think that statement is ridiculous. You, quite literally, no nothing about octothorpe's level of literacy.

I know that if you can't read the most common form of handwriting, you are partially illiterate. This is true by definition: you are unable to read.

il·lit·er·ate adjective
1. unable to read and write: an illiterate group.
2. having or demonstrating very little or no education.
3. showing lack of culture, especially in language and literature.


I am using the term in the sense of items 1 and 3, although it is my professional opinion that there is a high correlation between poor handwriting and a lack of general education.

Thing about college is once you've gotten your first job after graduation, nobody really gives a fuck what you did in college.

That is certainly true for the low end jobs that don't require degrees. But for serious jobs, they care where you went to college, and that you graduated. If nobody can read your college board essays, you'll be doing a 2 year General Studies program at a community college, not an MA at Harvard.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:59 PM on October 10, 2012


You're getting pretty darn offensive here, cds. I don't have an MA from Harvard but I do have a Masters degree from Carnegie Mellon and I didn't write my fucking application letter to the program with a #2 pencil. I'm pretty sure that they would have thrown it out if I had. I wrote it in LaTex and handed it in as a PDF. You know why? Because I wanted them to be able to read it and not have to waste time deciphering antiquated cursive scratchings.
posted by octothorpe at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And how did you take your college boards? Your GRE?
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:58 PM on October 10, 2012


Wow, you know, it just dawned on me that cds is actually being serious in this thread.

(reaching for the pull-cord on my conversation ejection seat)
posted by Afroblanco at 9:41 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well Afroblanco, according to CDS, you aren't a cultured person, therefore you are not a good person so it's best that you did leave. It's clear that a person's character can accurately be judged by their penmanship.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:18 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The general subject area GRE was a taken on a computer but somewhat ironically, the computer science GRE was on paper and I filled that out by printing. I don't remember my scores of the top of my head but I did well enough to get into a graduate program at CMU that generally has a < 20% acceptance rate.
posted by octothorpe at 4:40 AM on October 11, 2012


MaryDellamorte Well Afroblanco, according to CDS, you aren't a cultured person..

Uncultured to some degree. One might also judge a persons level of culture by their ability to form a coherent argument, rather than splutter "fuck fuck fuck" over and over.

octothorpe The general subject area GRE was a taken on a computer but somewhat ironically, the computer science GRE was on paper and I filled that out by printing.

Yes, this is common in standardized tests. Multiple choice sections are done on scantron forms or more recently, on computer. But "composed responses" that require more production of ideas are usually done with pencil and paper. For example, it would be a serious handicap for most students, if they had to write math notation in LaTeX. It might even be a minor handicap for you generally. I would be very surprised if you were able to write complex equations in LaTeX faster than you could do it with pencil and paper.

And this is my primary point, since I was raising the issue of standardized tests in written format. If you have only a few minutes to produce an essay, and it takes you more time to write in block print than cursive, you have a disadvantage. I see this problem on exam papers, every day, hundreds of times.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:18 AM on October 11, 2012


Heidegger fretted energetically about the impersonal touch of the typewriter. Still, that’s no reason to set off for the Black Forest with a rucksack full of virgin postcards. Compositions at the keyboard often have the fluency of the longhand draft, the letter, the note penned in haste. Charles Olson welcomed the typewriter as an aid to composition, clunky yet precise, enabling poets to orchestrate ‘the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables’. ‘For the first time,’ he wrote in his essay ‘Projective Verse’, ‘the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had.’ Derrida is encouraging too. As you’d expect, he sees handwriting as a technology like any other, but he confessed to La Quinzaine Littéraire that he’d been in the habit, when working on ‘the texts that mattered to me’, of laying aside his ordinary pen for a dip pen with an artist’s quill. Once the revisions were done, he typed up the text on an Olivetti. Eventually he fell in love with his ‘little Mac’. All the same he was unsettled by word processing and the ‘indefinite’ nature of a correction: sliding in the Tippex had felt more ceremonious and decisive. ‘With the computer, everything is rapid and so easy; you get to thinking that you can go on revising for ever.’
-Jeremy Harding writes about Philip Hensher's book in The London Review of Books.
posted by Kattullus at 5:01 AM on November 8, 2012


LOL this subject returns from the grave.

I think it was last week on The Simpsons, Lisa runs off after school to some mysterious activities. Bart decides to follow her and investigate, after she drops a cryptic note that reads, "Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow." They discover she has secretly been taking cursive handwriting lessons from the retired Principal of her school.

I thought that was really weird because I remember learning pangrams like that one, and my personal favorite, "pack my box with twelve dozen liquor jugs" back in my junior high typing class. My school was considered particularly progressive for having a typing class, which was considered the beginning of vocational education for girls who would become secretaries. I took the class because I was had trouble typing accurately on computer punch card machines.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:52 AM on November 8, 2012


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