October 11, 2006
Penmanship – the lost art…
I wanted to comment on something we are losing these days- the days of point and click. I myself am a victim. You see, I type faster than I can ever hope to write. I can almost dictate and type in the normal qwerty keyboard. Now, this would not be so bad if I were able to write fast but the truth is that I write horrendously. Which is why I am slowly attempting to improve my handwriting.
There was a period of time when proper handwriting would ensure you a stable job. In fact, there was a time when being an expert in penmanship was actually a full time profession. It appears this is no longer the case. I find this downfall quite interesting, as all these little letters on the screen have a history- they were all written by hand at one point in time- their shape cast by convention and by authors of styles of handwriting, interested in legibility and form. These old pen-masters helped to form the shapes we use even now.
(speaking of masters…) I also find it intriguing that, for followers of Zen, calligraphy (shodo ) is one form of artwork which many specialize in. It marries the art made by man’s brush, with spiritual meditation. I believe strongly that this link is not to be laughed at… when one is stressed, sad, or happy, one’s handwriting is influenced. The idea that the heart, brain, and hand are connected is not to be disregarded. In fact, many studies on handwriting in the school system, have shown that students who take more handwriting instruction increase the structural complexity of their sentence creation. With the recent SAT’s requiring a hand-written essay portion, with those who print obtaining a lower average score in comparison to those who write in cursive, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the recent handwritten lo-fi movement arising from the geeky high-tech sector. (Being a geek isn’t necessarily bad. )
When you have a computer- who needs a pen?
An interesting thing I’ve noticed, is that the computer allows my brain to throw more thoughts on a page… but this is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, since I can throw more thoughts on a page (my poor readers) this generally equates to lack of well-thought out sentence and paragraph structure. Mostly due to the more then helpful “Cut and Paste” and Mr. Delete. When asked to write by hand (lets say the computer is getting it’s logic board replaced for the third time), I notice this downfall of my writing immediately.
Now, don’t get me wrong here- our whole world has been helped by the advances that came from computing, and most of us couldn’t possibly produce manuscripts without the help of a computer with a typesetting program (small jab there at Word users…). However, even though we are helped, we must realize in some ways we are also hindered; this is where the new lo-fi movement is coming from. People are throwing out their PDAs for Moleskines. They are ignoring their mice (poor things) more frequently now, and picking up their Parkers. The reason? I strongly feel it’s disconnection driven. By “disconnection” I mean that there is a disconnection between well-thought out, well planned-out, phrases and our writing. The first thing I noticed as I forced myself to write letters on excellent stationary (Triomphe) was that I didn’t want to throw it out frequently. This meant that each sentence was thought about, more so than if I were writing on the computer. As well, each time I formed my words, since I was trying to write them legibly, I slowed down, and paid attention to form. All these things I ignore if I’m writing fast, or writing for myself, especially on the computer.
I have been contemplating these things on and off when I’m not working on my fast-approaching deadline at work… In particular, I’ve noticed that with increased speed of communication, and increased technology used, there is also more disconnection between the parties communicating. Disconnection leads to communication difficulties. I’m sure we’ve all experienced an e-mail discussion degrade into anger from misunderstanding one’s sentences etc. Hopefully, it was resolved… more than likely it needed to be resolved by lowering the level of disconnection- be it by using the phone or talking in person, etc. In person we have body lanuage and facial expressions that we lose when we move to phone communication. In phone communication, we have voice inflection, speed, and tone, which we lose when we write by hand. When writing by hand, we have we have cramped letters, fast and uncaring writing, or we have expressive characters, large movements, good spacing, pauses where ink seaps into the paper a bit- all things we lose when we e-mail. E-mail itself is quite disconnected. We no longer have that body language, voice inflection, expressive handwriting to tell us how the communicator is feeling. So, if we have poor sentence structure in e-mail, or ambiguous meanings which may be construed into personal attacks- communication breaks down quickly, and tempers flair.
Yes, we are improving the disemmination of information, and the speed of communication. But we are also creating lack of connection (either between well thought out words and paper or between the communicators). It’s this lack of connection- this sense of “black-box” filing (is my document here or there? or anywhere?) that is causing a backlash in our generation. We are now picking up the fountain-pen and nice little personal books, where our lowly little grocery-store lists, or our hopefully enjoyed, yet esoteric, rants fill their pages in expressive handwriting.
- “The Handwriting Is On The Wall” -Washington Post
- Penmanship- History and Current
- Handwritig Repair – Kate Gladstone
- Breim on Italic Handwriting (Excellent)
- Pickering on Italic Handwriting (Excellent)
post-script: I also believe that there is something to be said for the difference in writing implements. A future post may deal with the ball-point -v- fountain pen issue so many of us have experienced lately. I for one will come down on the side of the fountain-pen, but I’ll save our discussion for another time.