Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Character defining moments

After reading this article in the local paper, I have to wonder if we, as a society, are moving in the right direction. Perhaps I'm just showing my secret Luddite ways. Having been employed as an IT (information technology) professional for the past 13 years or so, I used to be all about getting kids to become more proficient at keyboarding, basic computer use as well as having an understanding of technical topics. Given how technical most consumer electronics are, they seem to be doing okay. But now I'm having some second thoughts.

It used to be receiving a personal letter in your mailbox was something you could reasonably expect to show up around the bills. Okay, even I will admit that getting a Birthday and Christmas card was typical fare, but if you got lucky it had a personal message in it. There have always been those special subsets of people who send newsletters to 'catch people up' with what they and their family have been up to since you last heard from them (not surprisingly a year ago since their last Christmas card), but I digress.

Now you get eGreetings wishing you a happy birthday in your email. In fact most of the correspondences I give and receive is done using my computer and not with pen and paper. It's a great way to speed up communication and when I consider that most of my family is thousands of miles away I can appreciate the medium.

But do you remember learning to write? I still remember getting my handwriting primer (for left-handed students) in first grade. It has pictures showing you how to hold your pencil (those big fat red ones with no erasers on the end) and how to make all the basic letter shapes. First you copied the ones with dotted lines and then went off on your own filling the page with slashes, curves, circles and lines. From there we covered letters and numbers and once the book completed we could write any letter we wanted anytime we wanted.

Cursive was like a foreign language and it was a lot harder to get the shapes to look like the sample alphabet that hung over the blackboards that circled the classroom. But still we persevered because this was 'grown-up' writing. I remember being so proud of my handwriting even at its most clunky and awkward state. Computers didn't show up until years later so we weren't spending any time at a keyboard. All of our book reports were handwritten and double-spaced. When we got older, we were first allowed and then expected to type up our reports. I remember being envious of kids whose moms were typists. What took me hours and hours they could do in the space of one bad sitcom.

Questions I have are: What will handwriting look like when these kids are grown? We are going to have to live and work with them. Maybe everything will be computerized and writing things on a piece of paper will be considered a quaint past time.

Years ago when I bought my first PDA (it was an Apple Newton) and then a Palm PDA I learned the shorthand they called graffiti. Will the next type of handwriting not be Spencerian or the Palmer Method or even the current relaxed print cursive (italic) but graffiti?

A piece of me sees this as part of our evolution. Kids will be learning fancy handwriting in art class and not part of the Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic of yesteryear. Well, I've decided to fight this transition to Scanning, Keyboarding and Coding and will do my part to keep handwriting alive.
Send me your address and I'll send you one honest-to-goodness handwritten letter. Tell me what you've been up to and in return a will reply with a thoughtfully scribed letter, possibly even with the occasional spelling error (no spell-checkers in real-life darlings!). If you'd like to impress the pants off of me, let me know and I'll send you my mailing address so that you can send me one of your own!

Let the handwritten letter revolution begin!

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