Handwriting: simple, elegant and very much alive

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Handwriting: simple, elegant and very much alive

When was the last time you wrote anything of substance by hand? Faced with the inability to reply to this question as posed by a friend a few months ago, I decided to make it a point to do so regularly – and found something I hadn’t quite expected.


The warm, fuzzy lens of nostalgia


As a child, I always thoroughly enjoyed writing. It wasn’t quite comparable to my insatiable appetite for reading, but I nonetheless found great pleasure in the ability to create something from nothing. Naturally, the memory may appear magnified through a lens tinted with nostalgia, yet the majority of people I discuss this matter with seem to have something of a soft spot for the way we used to write – with a worn pencil in hand, carefully and deliberately sculpturing letters, sentences and storylines.


Of course, there are also those who loathe it, much as they would the bubonic plague.


I still very much enjoy the act of writing, even though for many years now I have been reliant upon a variety of computing devices to solidify the trappings of my imagination into prose. However, as much as I enjoy the speed and agility of electronics, it occurred to me upon receiving the aforementioned question from my friend that I had always enjoyed writing the old-fashioned way. Thus, I descended upon a small experiment: to write regularly by hand to see if there was something other than nostalgia which made me remember it with such fondness.


As it turns out, there was indeed.


Handwriting: Twitter of yore?


Fret not – what I am referring to is not the inane oversharing of personal details with which Twitter is oft associated, but rather Twitter at its best: the ability to – due to a constraint of a mere 140 characters – transform what may otherwise be literary lumps of coal into diamonds through compression. Purportedly, Ernest Hemingway once wrote the following: “Baby shoes for sale, never worn”. If written today, Twitter could have been the perfect delivery medium.


When it comes to handwriting, a similar effect takes place: output by keyboard is an order of magnitude faster than output by handwriting. Unable to keep up with the wild torrent of thoughts and associations allowed by digital paper – which may stream onto the screen in varying degrees of coherence only later to be reigned in, the analog counterpart promotes the bare essentials; the very crux of points; the refinement and the distillation to the purest form possible.


This appeals to me on many levels, but mostly so in the fact that a constant process of refinement is innate to the proceedings of handwriting, and that it allows for an environment mercifully devoid of distractions. It’s simple – yet, elegant in its execution.


To see whether you agree, ask yourself the following: would you rather approach someone you find attractive in a bar with only the right things to say – or the right things to say interspersed with sufficient superfluousness to render you ordinary as opposed to outstanding? And, were you able to choose, would you prefer a noisy environment or one which allows for a certain level of seclusion?


An unexpected degree of usefulness


Although I cannot say I write enough by hand to have experienced a particular difference between analog and digital input, I recently came across an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that claims cognitive, learning and even fine motor skill benefits for handwriters of all ages. I find this part to be of particular interest:


“And one recent study of [Virginia Berninger]’s demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.”


That’s certainly something to think about in an age where most parents – albeit with the very best of intentions – expose their children to the wondrous world of computing at an early age. Perchance, as with most things in life, taking balance into consideration could prove wise.