A Love Letter to the Dying Art of Handwriting

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Oh loopy “L” in a handwritten letter’s “love” sign-off, how I adore thee, with your distinct swishy mark, from the sender whom I love, and whose imprint will never be repeated, ever again, exactly the same as you. A modern day <3 stand-in just won’t do.

As texting and typing become the preferred medium of communication, what will happen to the romance stoked by handwritten letters? As we evolve to excise this mark of authenticity from our communicated lives, will we also forever lose our ability to feel the emotions evoked by it? Will a sweet tweet or sentimental post prove comparable to the handwritten post-it love note on the bathroom mirror, or will we end up drowning in the monotony of generic fonts, a homogenous sea of serifs and san-serifs?

Times are changing, and what our generation is losing from the fading practice of handwriting is real. Today’s educational Common Core Standards only require teaching legible writing for the first few years of schooling. After that, as Maria Konnikova informed in her recent New York Times essay, “…the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.”

Reasons to retain handwriting, in terms of the benefits bestowed on youth, are compelling. According to Stanislaus Dehaene, a psychologist at the College de France in Paris:

 “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.”

Ms. Konnikova continues:

“…the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.”

“Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding…”

Science delivers a strong enough argument to mandate we keep handwriting in our classrooms, and thus, in our lives. But, even more than that are the values that can’t quite be quantified, but felt. The one thing that sets handwriting, cursive or not, apart from other mediums is its inherent authenticity. There is no one, ever, who could write exactly, any given message, the way a particular writer did. There is something about this unique fingerprint that makes us feel that we are special, that we are a keeper of a secret only shared with us. Perhaps then, handwriting is art—something to admire, to stare at, to make sense of, the way we don’t make sense of other non-handwritten forms.

Penmanship promulgates our authentic identities and colorful personas in an age increasingly defined by uniform, dull and perhaps emotionless typed letters.

photo credit: Julie Edgley via photopin cc