As I read this post at The Guardian, I became enamored (again) with some of the comments that I hear from people who resist or whom are adverse to digital accessories to activities and behaviors they count as necessary (writing notes in the margin of a print Bible, Post-It notes on the desk monitor/cork board/desk/anywhere they’d stick, etc.). This alluding that to lose handwriting these aspects of their threads of life means that they lose their attachment to themselves or their thoughts:
…These attempts to modify ourselves through our handwriting become a part of who we are. So too do the rituals and pleasurable pieces of small behaviour attached to writing with a pen. On a finger of my right hand, just on the joint, there is a callus which has been there for 40 years, where my pen rests. I used to call it “my carbuncle”. “Turn right” someone would say, and I would feel the hard little lump, like a leather pad, ink-stained, which showed what side that was on. And between words or sentences, to encourage thought, I might give it a small, comforting rub with my thumb.
In the same way, you could call up exactly the right word by pen-chewing, an entertainment which every different pen contributed to in its own way. The clear-cased plastic ballpoint, the Bic Cristal, had a plug you could work free with your teeth and discard, or spit competitive distances. The casing was the perfect shape to turn into an Amazonian blowpipe for spitting wet paper at your enemies.
Our rituals and sensory engagement with the pen bind us to it. The other ways in which we write nowadays don’t bind us in the same way. Like everyone else, I write a lot on a computer, and have done for more than 20 years…
When I started schooling, penmanship was a primary portion of the day. And like many, getting into 4th grade meant that I no longer was held to print and wide-ruled paper, but could do college rule paper and cursive. By 6th grade, we were swapping Bic and other pens for the best writing quality – with the popular folks knowing that only the cool kids wrote with black ink all the time. However, by the time I got to my 1st semester of college, I wondered why we stuck onto handwriting for so long. I could type faster, and my teachers were more interested in my writing style than in my style of handwriting. No longer was it penmanship, but it was authorship that reigned important (amazing the things we were passed down).
Fast forward to these days where I do handwriting because its one part a relic of a generation of life past, and because it can fit the context just a little bit better. There’s nothing special about my handwriting, I just kind of make sure that its solid enough that if I put it into Evernote, that its OCR algorithms can read it well enough to search. Occasionally, I’d get comments from others talking about the quality of my handwriting, or the fact that I even do it in this age. For them, its a bit of a wonderment because there is a truth to handwriting being a lost art. I don’t have the same wonder until I look at Mandarin or Arabic script. Handwriting there seems to be as much an exercise of the identity as it is one of the mind (there are just so many characters, for everything). There’s a difference in this context now for me than it was then – and I think that this age makes us ask questions of what makes one’s identity moreso than others had before.
When I sit with my mobile, I can usually get away with typing with one hand. My device is thin enough that a QWERTY on-screen keyboard makes no sense. I use T9 on my Nokia N8 and it works great – right until there’s a word that it doesn’t recognize. But there are moments that I wonder what it would be like to take that space where those numbers and letters are and do something like handwriting, but perhaps with my thumb. I wasn’t taught to do script with my thumb (so to that fine motor action, I am not showing much intelligence). It would be something though to get a text message, scribbled with one’s thumb or index finger, which is able to be read easily (or at least translated to type/speech by on-board software). That would take things back to grade school for sure… especially when a parent or someone older tells me that I need to write something 1000 times as some type of disciplinary action.
The story at the end of that Guardian piece is a good one. If for no other reason that it should have us think a bit more about this digital exhaust, and what exactly people will be able to know of us once we stop spewing it.