Over drinks with coworkers last night, the topic came up of handwriting. The complaint was that kids these days can't hand write a legible sentence if their life depended on it. Through the life of the conversation, what we decided was that computers were to blame for this delapidation of the handwritten word. Even when I was in highschool in the early 90s, some classes required papers to be computer generated, and required me to spend study hall after study hall sitting in from of an Apple ][e, developing wrist pain from their poorly designed keyboards.
This was the answer that 4 people came up with; myself, an actuary, a computer programmer, and a variety-store employee, over two-for-one drinks at the Expressway Inn's lounge. Just talk, but a significant issue. Stopping and thinking about this has brought some issues to my mind. Is it really the computers, the people, or a misinterpretation of what exactly is happening?
When my parents were in high school, papers were expected to be typewritten. When my father was in college in the mid-80s, the sound of typing filled the house on a regular basis. Typewriters used to be the tool of the educated; when something important needed to be set onto paper, the typewriter was to be used. The presence of computers today hasn't changed this concept, and instead has just replaced it. Teachers today don't require the paper to be submitted in electronic form or emailed in. Still today, the output is expected to be put into physical form, serif-fonted text on white paper, 1" margins on each side, and title page composed within standards created a hundred years ago by teachers & writers as a standard form which has continued until today.
What have computers replaced then? A #2 pencil is usually still the only required hardware for taking an essay test. For the majority of students, notes are still scribbled down into a spiral-bound notebook or 3-ring binder. Notes passed in class are still scrawled into a torn corner of paper. But, through the 70s and 80s there was a cause which frowned on the dropping number of informal correspondences between people. Nobody was writing letters anymore. The quick communication of a telephone and the expended range of transportation afforded by the automobile had reduced the usefullness of writing a letter. Today, letter writing has begun to be more common. The postal service isn't benefiting from this -- the resulting number of messages being sent from one person to another are manifested in the immense amount of e-mail traffic on the internet. It can be admitted that handwritten letters have been replaced by the typewritten e-mail.
It can also be considered what sort of an impact this has had on the people these days. People today can fill out credit card applications online, they order airline tickets via websites, and employers are requiring more and more computer savviness in their employees. It is rate to hand-write an invoice anymore; salespeople snter the information into a computer, hit a key, and a stylish invoice prints out. Interoffice Memos are sent via e-mail systems, and fax cover sheets are typed and printed out. The neccessity for being able to handwrite in the real world is diminishing. It is becoming more important that you know how to type than to take pen in hand and write a note.
Besides my passion for computers, I also collect antique books. From time to time, I find letters, notes, and other little bits of paper in these books -- and I often can't make sense of them. I'm sure that there are people with good handwriting, I'm sure there are people with great handwriting, but there are lots of people with horrible handwriting. I am one of those people. I haven't written anything in cursive script in almost 10 years. I print everything in capital letters. The coworkers that I was sitting with last night probably haven't ever seen my handwriting. Quality of handwriting may not be a significant issue in today's world, but that might not be a good thing. If computers continue to infiltrate everyday communications, handwriting may not be the way of the future. I can't remember seeing anyone use a pen in any Star Trek episode over the years, even the original series. Or, it may just remain the standard easy, low-cost and multi-platform instant recording of information data format for years to come. My $1500 PC on my desk at work does nearly everything for me on a daily basis, but when my phone rings I grab a notepad and pen. Instantly, I can create a record of the phone call, simply and easily, and I can pass that note on to another person without waiting for server response and risk them missing the message if they are having computer problems. Somewhere in the middle, people today have to reach an equilibrium in communication. My desk has a telephone, a computer on a network, a printer, a fax machine, and a cup with pens of many colors. The key to getting the most out of all the forms of communications is to keep the operation skills for all of these tools at their peak, including each and every pen in my little cup.