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Offbeat 21 November 2014

Apparently the mark of communication ability will devolve to the dextrous use of thumbs. I think that the situation will reverse. I will be the one classified as barely literate for sticking my own tongue out of the side of my mouth as I labour at composing sentences on the touchscreen.

I wanted to write about democracy, and how discussion and consensus trumps the mark of a pen on paper, or the push of a button, but that flies in the face of fashion, so here’s something else.
There was an awful lot of emphasis placed on handwriting at school. It was always a bit of a struggle for me. I spent a bit of time getting it right, but did not succeed entirely.
I can understand the need teachers had to be able to write, but I was always able to read my own words, so my sentiment was split down the middle.
The one thing that teachers got abysmally wrong was to explain that they needed neat handwriting to be able to read what I wrote. Instead they imposed it on me. Had they said that if I wrote neatly it would make their lives easier and allow them to figure out how to help me, I would probably have started fixing my handwriting instantly, being a helpful sort of person.
They didn’t, so full marks for complete misunderstanding. On the other hand, I can also understand the pressure of having a bunch of unruly kids to manage, and that there is never enough time for everyone.
I look at my handwriting nowadays and it is still spidery, but it doesn’t look all that bad compared to what is happening on paper. Cursive script seems to be as scarce as hens’ teeth, replaced by some kind of print that used to look barely literate. Cursive was fast, a sign that people needed to write fast. Print was for people who stuck their tongues out the sides of their mouths while they formed letters and navigated the mysteries of spelling.
Nowadays I look at the sort of print handwriting that passes for handwriting and I understand that some print is written better than others. Mostly though I end up shuddering when people capitalise common nouns, substituting English language for the German language.
 I was taught, that in English, common nouns are a bit like the latest slang and jargon, not all that important in the bigger scheme of things, and not worth capitalising.
There is some question about the need for handwriting in future. Apparently the mark of communication ability will devolve to the dextrous use of thumbs. I think that the situation will reverse. I will be the one classified as barely literate for sticking my own tongue out of the side of my mouth as I labour at composing sentences on the touchscreen.
I’m going to blame it on genetics at this point. My thumbs are just too big, or the touchscreen keypads are too small, and using the sides of my thumbs is just too clumsy. Mercifully those letters that do appear in the correct sequence are neat enough to read.
If the use of a pen or even a stylus does disappear that places us at the mercy of devices. Imagine one of those huge solar storms that scientists tell us will wipe out all electronics. What then? Who will be able to gather and transmit information if nobody can write anymore?
I have a suspicion that paper will be the next thing to vanish after handwriting, so that’s probably not something worth thinking about too much.
Writing itself, actual words, is under threat as well. Twitter and SMS want us to limit ourselves to a tiny number of characters, so words get contracted. They also lose their nuances, often found in the context of sentences. We like short words now. Long words, I imagine, are too much of a challenge.
I have a suspicion that handwriting will become a leadership thing. Certainly if a solar storm does arrive to fry our computers and mobile devices, the folks who have the ability to write (and find paper to write on) will rise to the top fairly rapidly.
I won’t go into mathematics here or talk about the ability to add seventeen and nineteen mentally without breaking a sweat or getting a severe panic attack about the prospect of long division.
I will say that as much as we become accustomed to convenience, we also become dependent on them. Dependency is easy enough to view as a weakness. Perhaps a major solar storm will show us that, one day.

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