Bad Handwriting: Blaugust Day 16

My handwriting is atrocious.

It wasn’t ever good, or nice, but at least it was legible. Now, even I have trouble reading back what I’ve written if a few days have gone by.

I blame computers, of course. I’m old enough to remember when we had secretaries at work who did the typing. Everything had to be hand-written and legible enough to give the secretaries a fighting chance of reading and transcribing it. They did have rudimentary word processor software, but they were the only people in the team with computers of any description. Even when our team got another computer, we had to take turns using it. And the writing-handing in-typing up-reading-correcting cycle continued for some time.

So handwriting was important. If you couldn’t write legibly, the whole process of checking, proof-reading and correcting took longer, and with fifteen people feeding work to two secretaries, that would be a problem.

But over the years we all got computers, we all started typing our own stuff, and the secretaries left. And whilst we got better at knowing where the keys on the keyboard were, the importance of writing things down so that someone else could read them diminished.

I attend a lot of meetings, and I write extensive notes (as well as bad handwriting, I also have a bad memory), but the only person who ever has to read those notes is me. So it’s not important any more to write in way that other people can read – if I can interpret my scribbles and weird abbreviations to produce notes or minutes, that’s all that counts.

Copperplate handwriting - I have never written like this.

Copperplate handwriting – I have never written like this.

Does it matter? I still admire elegant, clear handwriting in other people, but is this something that will progressively die out? Yes, it’s still taught in schools, but once the students have got their handwritten exams out of the way, how often will they resort to pen and paper for communication rather than the keyboard?

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a “things were better in the old days” rant, however it may sound – I try not to do those. I genuinely ask, “does it matter if this skill eventually disappears?” So long as people know how to write so that they themselves can read it, is that all that’s important?

After all, I’ve “written” 400 words in this post, all perfectly legible, and you wouldn’t have know about my handwriting if I hadn’t mentioned it.

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6 Responses to Bad Handwriting: Blaugust Day 16

  1. calensariel says:

    That’s a good question. You could ask the same thing about knitting or tatting, weaving… Electronics may make it seem like we don’t need to learn how to do manual things like writing, but what if the web and the power ever goes down permanently? Here we have a million folks going to school to learn how to be computer geeks, but that job could end up obsolete. But we’re always going to need clothes, to write contracts for goods, and toities! How many people are still going to school to learn how to fix them (plumbers)? (Just playin’ devil’s advocate here. :D)

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    • I guess so long as handwriting continues to be taught, the latent skill is there and in theory able to be retrieved when needed. Whereas craft skills which are not taught can be lost forever, like dead languages.

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      • calensariel says:

        They have done away with teaching cursive writing here. Makes me wonder how you can tell one person’s printing from another on legal documents. Maybe someday we’ll have to sign them with a thumb print, eh?

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  2. katerimorton says:

    I got into the most enormous argument over this with someone a couple of years ago. Cursive handwriting is no longer taught in all American schools, and it will have disappeared from curriculum entirely within the next decade. I agree that it’s not necessary to teach it to everyone, although I hate to see another tangible, personal thing disappear. But even if we’re no longer writing beautiful script, we have to maintain familiarity with it, and be able to read it. There’s a vast world of primary sources out there that are only accessible to people who can read cursive. I can see that becoming a pretty good market in half a century or so – interpretation of primary sources. But if fewer and fewer people can read those sources, they’ll eventually become irrelevant regardless of how much we could learn from them. And I like old stuff, so that makes me sad. (reductionist closing argument)

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  3. The reading of handwriting as the preserve of academics? In some ways I suppose we already have that – if you look back to Old English, or even some Elizabethan text, it’s not easy to make out. Is this just another step down the road? I suppose a key difference is that although writing has evolved down the years, it still had the same purpose as the primary means of individual communication and record. What we have now is possibly the removal of its purpose, kind of like long multiplication in the age of the calculator – occasionally useful (I had to do some in the pub quiz last night) but not a core requirement in anyone’s day-to-day life..

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