Handwriting still relevant in the digital age

"Focus on children and adults' penship, legibility, pencil/pen grasp and working on problem areas are more important than ever, especially in this digital age when most of our written communication is done through texting on mobile devices or typing on a keyboard"

The adage ‘you can tell a lot about a person by their handwriting’ resonates with me on every level. However, considering how the trend of handwriting is fast declining, I stand out amongst the crowd as a dinosaur.

Thinking aloud, I questioned why handwriting is still important in the age of digitalization. It is no surprise that as technology has become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, the traditional act of writing with a pen has been somewhat forgotten. The ease of word processing documents, as well as the development of applications that allow us to sync our notes across multiple devices, has made the purpose of handwriting almost redundant. However, the act of writing should not be forgotten and aside from its charm for certain tasks, it still has much more utility than it is often given credit for. In many ways, handwriting is still less restrictive than its digital counterpart and has many advantages both functionally and creatively.

Additionally, there is another important point that handwriting still forms a unique part of our culture and identity that we should not forego so easily. To begin with, it is worth mentioning that handwriting still forms an integral part of our education system due to the fact that the majority of our examinations are still handwritten. Therefore, it still serves as a very functional skill and students who are not able to write legibly and articulately place themselves at a severe disadvantage to those who can. This means that despite the incorporation of technology such as iPads into the classroom, focus should still be placed on student’s ability to write without the help of technology. Following on from this, writing notes by hand also has many cognitive benefits. The ability to write is traditionally closely linked with the ability to read in the development of literacy in children, the one fostering the other.

There have been insufficient children who have learned to write using only a keyboard to disprove this interrelation. Whilst it has been argued that typing notes at the time may allow us to focus more on what we are actually listening to, research has suggested that rewriting our notes by hand means that we are more likely to remember them. It also allows you time to re-evaluate what you have written and digest your notes, adding extra thoughts and observations to what you have written. The physical act of writing can also have other benefits in particular with creative writing. Even in this digital age, many accomplished people consider it critical to their success to keep a small notebook and pen handy so that they can jot down ideas in the moment and refer back to them later. Patrick McClean wrote a wonderful article in which he defended his love of longhand, despite the obvious advantages of technology. McClean argued that writing with pen and paper helps to rid you of the distractions of the digital world. He said that when typing, there can be a tendency to edit as you go along rather than letting your ideas flow.

This can be counterproductive for the creative process. With a blank piece of paper you tend to just write, get your ideas onto paper and leave the editing process until later. On the other hand, pen and paper can allow you to think more freely when doing things such as brainstorming. You have a blank page, a pen, and no restrictions as to where you can write, allowing you to link things together, circle important points and add side notes wherever makes sense. Many will argue that this can now be done on a computer, but as mentioned before, the distractions introduced with a computer or tablet can often interrupt your creative flow. Finally there is another, but no less important point that writing forms a unique and irreplaceable part of our culture. This is particularly the case for written languages made up of characters such as Mandarin but also for letters in English.

Handwriting styles are unique to the individual and something which simply cannot be replicated with a keyboard. Handwriting is unique to each individual writer, unlike typeface. One’s handwriting style, and especially one’s signature, is a public and permanent statement. Learning to write well can help make that statement strong and beautiful. Handwritten notes to friends and loved ones are intimate and personal in a way that email and typewritten text cannot fully convey. Nothing but handwriting can fully represent the mood and personality of the writer. A handwritten love note is a creative gift to cherish!

Therefore, I remain a vocal supporter of the need for a debate on the importance of handwriting and prefer to keep my notes on paper. There is something incredibly powerful about making your mark on paper. It is the moment when an idea leaves your mind and looks back at you for the first time. I have never been able to replicate that experience digitally. It is not unlike Skyping with a close friend versus having them over for dinner.