The Battle of the Letters

Forgotten blackboard

The art of writing by hand is gradually dying down. Perhaps not so gradually, with the fast development of technology. Am I the only one that resents that change?

I remember how much I dreamed of learning to type as a child. It all started with my childhood crush on Clark Kent. He was just perfect in my eyes, and the fact that he typed faster than some people spoke made me want to be able to type, no matter at what speed!

But in those days - before Personal Computers became popular enough for most households to have at least one - typed texts were no threat to people’s ability to handwrite. We’d buy books that of course had been typed, but most of us would write all our notes and letters by hand, either with a pen or pencil. Even teachers would write on the blackboard, which was to be replaced by the whiteboard - by hand.

When my daughter started Year 4, due to a school decision, all students (from that grade onwards) were to use an iPad in class, for most of their activities. Each child was to have their own iPad. I understand that we need to adjust to the current demands of the world but I’m not sure that iPads are that helpful when it comes to literacy - Many people may disagree with me and mention endless lists of programs that can help kids improve their literacy skills etc. I am well aware about those educational programs and believe that they are useful, but I question their superiority over the old style, traditional handwritten ones. I also believe that if we compare how well people can spell nowadays (I’m talking about the current young generation) and how well their parents and grandparents can or could spell, we would find that the previous generations were better. Why is that? If the answer is that spelling has become unimportant, then why are we still pretending that it is important at school and making our children waste their time and their teacher’s time with spelling tests?

My daughter enjoys writing quite a lot. However, I have recently found out that the NAPLAN test this year will be done online (at least at her school). So all the kids that have been learning to write texts by hand will now have to write using a keyboard. To make it worse, some of them will have no choice but to use the virtual keyboard. I think that the whole writing component of the NAPLAN should just be forgotten this year because I doubt that it will reflect students abilities at all. My prediction is that the students with strong writing skills will struggle, and the ones that had previously struggled the most will probably not see much difference, or they might do better, especially if their handwriting is not that legible.

If paper in the way we understand it is to become obsolete, we have no choice but to move on with the times. It seems that there is no time left for ‘those old fashioned ideas’. Therefore, I suggest that we put an end to the lack of coherence and act more in line with what has been decided by the system: don’t ask the parents to buy notebooks, a handful of pens and pencils. If everything is shifting to a digital format, let’s be clear and direct about it. I think that it would be less confusing for all and it would prevent unreasonable expectations from some.

Perhaps writing as we understand it will disappear altogether. Audiobooks are growing in popularity - I enjoy them immensely. And it will probably become more and more common for people to dictate a text and have it typed in front of them. I don’t think that it is all bad. If people can produce beautiful writing in that way, then I think it is worth doing it. What I do think is that school children should have the opportunity to fully develop their handwriting skills before they move on to the digital alternatives. Once they are equiped with both sets of skills, they can make an informed decision.

Somewhere along the time someone decided that it was preferable to draw a smiley face than to write "I am happy". Now we have the much loved Emojis. I wonder how long until we abandon our alphabet all together and start using Emojis instead. I have to admit that when that reasoning starts to apply to bank contracts and all other sorts of legal agreements, I may be at least half-thankful.

Who knows?! Perhaps we’ll see more “Handwriting” workshops developing and even flourishing as businesses in the future. Perhaps they’ll become something like a type of art, like I mentioned at the very beginning of this article. The ones who manage to master it may even add it to their resume under the ‘Skills’ heading. Cafes and Restaurants may well give preference to a worker that can write a beautiful menu in chalk to differentiate themselves. Perhaps handwriting will become the new “Mindfulness” technique: instead of colouring shapes, we’ll be copying sentences or paragraphs in our finest handwriting, just like my parents used to make me do, except that their reason was for me to learn spelling and punctuation, rather than to improve my concentration skills and be more present in the moment. So if handwriting does become a mindfulness activity or strategy, it will be an indication of how stressful this digital world can be. Yes, it saves us lots of time, but we end up wanting to fit in more and more in the same amount of time. There must be a reason why we need a break from it, right?

By the way, I drafted this text in longhand. Just saying.

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