The demise of handwriting


Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey

I'm finding this a book that's fun to dip into, rather than read all the way through. However, those more compelled by the topic would find a lot to thrill them reading it cover to cover.

In reading Michael Dad's review of the book on the Amazon page, what caught my attention right away was his comment:

"Like many people over the age of 40, I still have a callused knobby excrescence on the third finger of my right hand, the place where pencils and ballpoints and fountain pens have been resting ever since I first began to learn the Palmer method of cursive handwriting. Kids no longer have this "writer's bump," since cursive isn't seriously taught any more. For the most part, young people born into the computer age can, by focusing hard, just about sign their names in longhand, but otherwise they rely almost entirely on printing or, more and more often, keyboarding."

Ah, how true! How my two boys have struggled with handwriting, and how utterly illegible it is. Then again, neither is really into keyboarding, either. Until they hand it off to me to type with my gazillion miles an hour typing skills.

Partly because I realized I am so out of practice handwriting I keep a handwritten journal. Not only has it forced me to improve my script, it's also slowed down my thinking process to something a little more manageable. Using the keyboard several hours of every day has definitely speeded up my thinking process, but is that always a good thing? A little pondering, more care in determining word choice is never a bad thing.

I believe everyone should keep up the process of handwriting, at the risk of making myself sound like a dusty, old antique. I'm rather proud of that writer's bump on the middle finger of my right hand. It reminds me of the hours and hours spent madly scribbling notes in college, hoping against hope what I wrote covered all the major points. And, when the class was going slowly, I found myself scribbling in the margins, sometimes just to pass the time, and sometimes to crack up a friend sitting next to me.

Can you do that with a word processor? Okay, you can text messages, but can you draw insulting pictures of the professor?  See, there's one benefit we can scarcely do without.

Speaking of insulting pictures, on long vacations back in our childhood days, my brother and I would sometimes pass time by drawing grotesque ccaricatures of each other, passing them back and forth, each trying to top the other. I wish I'd have saved some of those pictures, especially the ones in which we had crossed eyes, huge noses and foamed at the mouth.

While unfortunately neglecting such sibling pastimes, Florey instead covers the history of handwriting and its evolution through the centuries. What I've found most interesting so far is the section about medieval writing and how it wound up becoming so uniform in look. That kind of thing fascinates me, being so interested in incunabula as I am, so transfixed by medieval manuscripts and their enduring beauty.

Anyone interested in, or consumed with the rapid diminishment of handwriting would find Florey's book an interesting read. If I had more time I'd read it straight through, but my level of interest in the topic is more inclined to skipping about, reading interesting parts. There are just too many other books on reading pile, with more arriving daily.

But I love the idea that someone's addressing this issue. It certainly deserves it. It's yet one more thing we're losing to the keyboarding age, and one that will be mourned less and less as generations go by. My children won't have the "writing bump," and who knows what method will be popular by the time they have children of their own.

A Luddite I am not, but so long as I draw breath I'll continue to appreciate the feel of fountain pens and how they sound scratching away on the sort of creamy paper found in leather bound journals. No, no they can't take that away from me, and how fervently I hope handwriting will always linger on, in some way or other. Losing it would be such a blow to the aesthetic beauty that is written communication.

I plan to keep singing its virtues as long as I can, hoping somehow it won't just disappear, overtaken by a digital age in which the appeal of slowing down and appreciating this craft falls competely by the wayside. So much is being lost in this era of rush, rush, rush. What people don't realize is, when they come to the end of their lives, their legacy will consist of no more than intangible ether, leaving little behind that can be touched and treasured. Perhaps then people will come to appreciate the old ways, realizing there's something to be said for taking things one page at a time.

  • Hardcover: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (January 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633670
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633671
  • 3 thoughts on “The demise of handwriting

    1. Sadly my fountain pens now dry up between each attempt to use them, making it even more of an effort. Like you I’m not a Luddite – what blogger could be – but I often feel the need to pick up a pen. Indeed, it is a s0urce of humour to those who know us that we both always have a pen and notebook on our person – even in the briefest of clothes. (Well, perhaps not quite the briefest but not far off it!)


    2. I like Florey’s book about diagramming. I liked reading it through. This book sounds interesting, although I admit I’m a computer person through and through. I don’t like writing by hand. Ever. I have awful handwriting.


    3. Ok, I know that this comment is very late for this post. But I first read this post at work and the ability to comment was blocked (don’t rat me out to the man.)
      I LOVE script. I LOVE my finger bump. I know I’m young and probably the last generation to have such a bump. But my love of writing and books and paper and beautiful handwritten things came from my mother. Hopefully I can pass it on to my future children someday too. Or at least some school kid some place.
      Thanks for the review!


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