A few days ago the Guardian published an extract of Philip Hensher’s book “The Missing Ink” which asks the question what role handwriting still has in the age of Twitter and texting.
It hit me that we are at a moment when handwriting seems to be about to vanish from our lives altogether…
Do you remember the times we used to sit in school, playing with our fountain pens, gnawing on our pencils to remember a certain word or express that idea lingering on the tip of the tongue?
When we compare this way of writing with typing on a keyboard the latter seems almost sterile. Instead of making circular movements with our wrist, shifting our body to give letters and words their unique slants, we are now whacking at keys in a linear fashion. The smooth connecting of loops and angles forming letters has given way to a staccato of disconnected consonants and vowels.
It would be a miracle if this didn’t have any effect on the way we express ourselves.
We have surrendered our handwriting for something more mechanical, less distinctively human, less telling about ourselves and less present in our moments of the highest happiness and the deepest emotion.
I’ve never been subjected to an analysis of my handwriting (except by elementary teachers) but apparently graphology is still a big thing when hiring employees, for the simple reason that it reveals more about our personality and character than anything else.
Handwriting is what registers our individuality, and the mark which our culture has made on us. It has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls and our innermost nature. It has been regarded as a sign of our health as a society, of our intelligence, and as an object of simplicity, grace, fantasy and beauty in its own right.
Can a tweet or status update, no matter how witty, replace this kind of personal mark?
We’re all typing on the same keyboards, the same devices, and I sometimes wonder if the more we try to be different, we just become more similar.
Reclaim Your Script
As Hensher says, “handwriting is good for us. It involves us in a relationship with the written word that is sensuous, immediate and individual.”
Even if it doesn’t serve a function anymore (most official communication doesn’t require handwriting) it might still be a good idea to simply pick up a pen once in a while and write a few words. And as I’m writing this, I wonder why nobody has tried yet to create a Twitter of handwriting. Would people refuse to use it? Are we simply too lazy? Or are we maybe afraid of the clues our writing might reveal about ourselves?
In the last few weeks I was assisting in the production of a book about Hebrew Handwriting, and I was amazed by the simple joy of tracing shapes on paper. In a way the foreign shapes of Cursive Hebrew allowed me to re-experience that magic moment when I first learned to write in my native language. It certainly does put one in a different space, compared to typing.
If you want to find out more about this project, see also Eti’s release note here.