Writing by hand: so 20th century…

Finland has just announced that it will stop teaching handwriting in schools, instead substituting the skill for typewriting and using a keyboard. In a stroke, so to speak, calligraphy is thus consigned to history, an ability that no longer offers any practical advantages in terms of personal development.

Doubtless, many people will regard the Scandinavian country’s move as overly aggressive. But we do need to ask ourselves whether it time to stop teaching children to write by hand, given that they live in an environment where they seemingly no longer need to. A close look at the daily life of a child these days shows that they are constantly typing, on computers and smartphones, but only resort to writing by hand when specifically asked to do so, i.e. when they are being taught the ability.

As these children get older, the need for handwriting will have diminished yet further. I carry a ballpoint pen in my pocket more out of sentimentalism than for the very occasional times I need to sign a document. The truth is that days go by without using the thing.

While at university, my fellow students appreciated my copious note taking. And while my handwriting was not the most elegant, it was legible. Time at the university library allowed me to see my notes photocopied by people I didn’t even know, underscored in a range of colors. But once university was over, I stopped writing by hand.

Today I would barely be able to manage more than a couple of lines: when I have tried, I have found note taking very uncomfortable. For any writing task that requires a minimum degree of creativity, the idea of writing by hand is unimaginable: my style of writing involves constant going back over what I have said, moving paragraphs around and honing my comments that having to think before putting down each comment would not only be archaic, but would feel absurd.

If I have to take notes during a meeting, the last thing I think of doing is getting out my pen and paper: the first thing I think of doing is getting out my smartphone and turning Evernote on. When teaching, I tend to write a few isolated words on a blackboard that I wish had a keyboard and a mouse, and on the rare occasions I do, my students understand why I don’t like it. Mine is a radical stance on this question: in the same way that I have been calling for the absolute and total disappearance of paper, I would be very happy if hand writing was definitively relegated to the last century.

Writing by hand is impractical, and is on the decline, signing a document is not the best way to authenticate something, and pens and pencils are no longer the most practical option. Are we prepared as a society to announce once and for all the end of handwriting, or will we see legions of the nostalgic calling for this cultural peculiarity to be protected, in the same way that we might argue in favor of learning cuneiform, or perhaps arguing that we need this skill in the increasingly unlikely event that we do not have a smartphone or keyboard to hand?

(En español, aquí)

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