The End Of Handwriting?

I've written before on how I have pretty much stopped writing anything with pencil/pen and paper. These days the only things I use a pen for are to sign credit card receipts and the very occasional check. For all that, I assumed that I was an outlier, perhaps bordering on the eccentric. But maybe not; Anne Trubek has an interesting article over at Miller-McCune in which she argues that Handwriting Is History.

It turns out that people are very emotional about the subject. Some invest good handwriting with a moral dimension and equate the end of handwriting with the end times. An earlier article by Trubek along the same lines encountered vehement opposition and extremely hostile comments. Still, there's no denying that cursive handwriting is on the wane—I haven't used it since elementary school—and children today simply aren't learning it.

That's interesting but the larger question is whether even printing will eventually die out. On the one hand, as my own experience shows, it's perfectly possible to get by without pen and paper. Indeed, I believe you're better off that way. You can get your thoughts recorded much more quickly and keep them around in searchable form without the clutter of files and stacks of paper. Already, things like the Starbucks iPhone app are pointing the way to the end of credit card receipts and it's almost certain that the next generation of smart phones will have NFC capabilities that will hasten the demise of the credit card system as it exists today.

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine doing mathematics without pencil and paper. Perhaps that's just a failure of imagination on my part—look at Mathematica, after all. If I had to guess, I'd bet that handwriting is heading where physical books are: neither will die out completely but will survive in niches that the ordinary person will find quaintly charming. What do you think? Will handwriting die out or will it, like rock and roll, always be?

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
  • yey, dying. Probably won't be completely eliminated within a decade, but surely dying a lot.

    i'm like you, i haven't really used pen for writing down anything long more than 10 seconds. I don't have paper notes with one full sentence on it since perhaps 2000.

    though, there's one quality with pen that i always missed and wanted to have a digital version: pen input device. However, every time when i'm at a store and really want to buy, year after year i just didn't. Also, all the artist i talked to, i think most say they find it easier to draw with pen, then scan into computer, then edit, as opposed to drawing directly with a digital pen on tablet.

    though, it's funny some people online are writing blogs about how they've totally ditched digital devices and went back to pen & papers for all their note taking needs.

    oh, the Kinesis keyboard review guy you pointed me to the other day (thanks for that), iirc he wrote a blog about his love of fountain pen.

    • jcs

      My drawing skills are routinely eclipsed by the efforts of kindergartners so digitizing drawings just isn't an issue for me. I know a lot of people really enjoy a nice fountain pen and moleskin notebook. I have similar feelings but it's just not worth it for me. I'd much rather capture everything digitally and be done with it.

  • jcs,

    just want to thank you for that Anee Trukek article. I just read it. Haven't read such a quality article online for a while.

  • jstolle

    I don't think it will die completely, and I think it would be a shame if it did. Frankly, tablet tech needs to get better at accepting input of any granularity beyond pinch-zoom capability (maybe voice recognition needs to get better, or something I can't even currently fathom, I don't know).

    The reason I don't think it will die completely is that almost every morning, I take everybody's order in the office to call in or take down to the deli in the next building with me. This is done almost exclusively on Stick-Its with a pen, whether I'm collecting something someone said to me over a cube wall or I'm pulling the info out of an email. This won't change because my phone is slower than Post-Its. My iPhone locks up and/or becomes slightly unresponsive (inevitably buffering all of my swipes and typing, only to completely screw up what I meant to do because I do things multiple times thinking I've not gotten through to the infernal machine) after having it for just under two years, whereas my Mont Blanc has yet to fail when called upon over the past four years. Mobile computing technology needs to be significantly refined over the next few years to change my stance on this.

    The reason I think it would be a shame if it did die is that I very much subscribe to the samurai philosophy of refining a multitude of varied skills. As a matter of fact, I have never put much weight into my handwriting (mostly due to laziness), so I've decided to teach myself calligraphy. That sounds a little strange considering I embrace technology so excitedly, but it goes along with my desire to get back in touch with "forgotten" arts. I think those skills are critical to keeping yourself fresh and approaching problems from a perspective of uncluttered simplicity.

  • Thomas Bartscher

    I found that making notes on paper helps me think about the actual problem instead of getting distracted by other stuff. Also the linear mode of text editing on a computer feels restrictive in comparison to being able to draw stuff, jump across the page, and generally using my own pattern recognition in conjunction with the positioning capabilities of my hand instead of relying on regexes (although those can be missed on paper, too) and the keyboard.