December 26, 2012

The Slow Death of Penmanship

There was one occasion I had stopped by a friend's office to help her out with a couple things and take her out to lunch and she was grading papers from her college level students. Naturally, the curiosity of midterms and architecture intertwined somewhat for me that I was compelled to leaf through a couple copies of student work. They were all hand written, since the technology hasn't quite arrived to print three hundred midterms at the same time from laptops with internet connections. But back to that moment then and there in the office, as I began to read through some of the students work, I noticed a consistent thing all throughout every single paper. Poor handwriting. Granted, I could have ripped a couple of students for incorrect themes throughout their papers, but to me, the penmanship was the most striking thing.

Perhaps about two decades ago, this problem would have been encountered less, with the difficulties of printing and availability of computer type processing. Today, at a time where one can live tweet and blog an entire day's worth of movies and what not from a cell phone, or wirelessly send documents to print at a touch of a button, certain things fall to the wayside and one of those things certainly are handwriting. The way we function and operate nowadays relies so little on the physical taking of notes in class, when we can digitally capture everything that is said, or quickly type it down. Heaven help the teacher or GSI when they have to grade hand written tests.

Handwriting somehow becomes one of those things easily ignored surpassed by more modern technology. Its understandable for technology to move beyond previous technology, but if anything, handwriting still is a necessary technology, surpassed in legibility, and distribution by typing and photocopying, there still is that necessary instant communication between two people. Just as well, say for instance, there are two people from different parts of the country, and between the two of them, comping up with a joint venture. No laptop, just a quick ideas brainstorm. Simple as that. Between the two of them, two young savvy professionals who spent an entire lifetime doing all work via computers, neither has a strict grasp over neat handwriting. Can you expect to see this venture lasting a bit if the ideas aren't clearly laid out?

You might say, well, maybe if they get their ideas out today, they can type it out tomorrow. Well, you can only pull out from your memory only so much, perhaps they'd forgotten a key component to their joint venture. In the immediacy of the events, there is a certain necessity that handwriting performs that it can capture quickly that you might lose in just typing.

If you look at a set of hand written notes of someone who does have fairly decent handwriting and compare it to a typeset of notes, notice a difference. A quick, neat scrawled out side note in the corner, ideas, relations of complexities, things of the like. A set of typed notes, and lets be honest. Parrots what the screen says. Students tend to write what they can see on the board, take in little to no aural response and add notes of their own. Facebook, twitter, youtube, email, all distract us. So that's one nail right there.

Teachers these days, I don't think they're helping all too much either. Albeit, when I attended elementary school in the late 90's, cursive and penmanship was still a very important. I can still recall writing on that thick, plush fiber paper, with the blue dotted lines and it had the texture of paper towel. Trying to write on it with a hard HB #2 pencil, made a light line and a deep crevice into it. I mean, it wasn't easy learning how to write on this swamp emulating paper, but over time, when we did graduate to wide ruled paper, suddenly, there was a world of things we could write, and even more so with college ruled paper.

There was however a wrong turn even I mistakenly had taken in my life. It was around sixth grade after four years of writing in cursive script and growing to resent having to connect my words, the teacher allowed us to print. By all means, my printing improved and eventually my script dwindled into nothing. Throughout high school, you could see my handwriting was fairly simple, not hurried, but in a way, lacking. It was plain, it was simple, and it looked childish. Unrefined for the use in a real world context, it had that charm of bent ascenders and sloping with a curlique descenders that allowed the illusion of childhood to be complete. This carried me through my first year of college when I made a major change in my writing.

My first year, I purchased with much pomp and circumstance a Koh-I-Noor rapidograph pen. Refillable. That of all the things was a new concept to me that I enjoyed. I did own my grandfather's Parker 51, but I ignored it for the most part. Now, my letters became increasingly technical. Resembling the sharp rakish lines of sans-serif fonts I had on my computer. I ran with it. On one occasion, I even wrote an entire month's worth of letters to my girlfriend at the time in Sweden using the rapidograph. It probably was the first pen I owned that, the ink changed the paper. When it dried, your fingertips could trace over the letterforms and feel literally what you had just written. She loved it so much at the time, she went out and bought pens as well just to write in a journal she was keeping for me.

My ex was one of those people who were very influential in my life. She made me appreciate the necessity of good type, good typesetting, good design, good work and good handwriting. Her letters always returned to me with her girlish squiggly scrawl, but it was readable. Just as she influenced me, I influenced her with my choice of excellent writing tools. I always kept on hand at my desk my Lamy fountain pen, a rotoring fountain pen and my Waterman which I kept on my person. These little hints thrown back and forth, we slowly improved each other's handwriting. Part of me wishes I could see the letters I sent her back then, but since then, we had long separated from each other not talking for four years now.

Perhaps its me, with my obsession with all things type and good handwriting when my friend came up to me at a dinner once asking me to do ten wedding invitations that were to be sent off to family. I could not say no, since this friend helped me in so many ways. When I started, I set down with several pieces of Crane & Co. stock and attempted to write in cursive. I could not. Baffled and panic stricken, I thought to myself: this can't be right. I love handwriting and stuff like this. Why can't I do it?

I had forgotten the cursive forms completely. I had lost track over the past eight years of how to write strictly in script. My daily scratch had evolved like some form of Frankenstein. I no longer adhered only to print  or only to cursive. It was this god awful abomination, that utilized cursive f's a wide variety of cursive and print s's and a constantly changing lower case a. I realized, this would not do. As fast as I could write, as neatly as I could write (when I have to write neatly or engross I can) cursive script was what I needed most for this wedding invitation. So I sat down, read through Tamblyn's guide and Speedball's guides, and worked back up. It took awhile, but I realized the necessity of good handwriting.

Pedal forward to today. I had gone to visit the classroom of the teacher who allowed me to stop using cursive. It was not quite the classroom I had left. Hell, it wasn't even the same room as before. But she was still there, and still the same awesome teacher I remembered. But before I could even postulate the handwriting question to her, I noticed something incredibly shocking. There literally were no pads of paper or journals around at all. Every single one of these sixth graders were using a laptop or an iPad, to watch lectures, things like that. The only time I saw pencils and paper being pulled out were to answer math sheets, and quickly scribble down assignments. Defeated, I walked towards the door after dropping off my business card and watched as the next generation of students entered a new era of technology and would drive more nails into the coffin of handwriting.