Think back to grade school; remember those special sheets of paper? Long rectangles with the dashed middle lines, the stationary equivalent to training wheels… Remember what seemed like countless hours spent learning each capital and lower case letter in cursive? Ask your parents if they remember. Now think hypothetically about your children. Odds are they will not have the same recollection. When thinking back, they will more than likely remember the countless hours typing away on a keyboard. Some elementary schools have already made the change from physical handwriting lessons to the more widely used digital form of typing. I say it all began with an increasing demand for business communication, which led to the many inventions and eventually the standardization of the typewriter in the mid to late 18th and 19th centuries. The decline of penmanship, however, did not start quite then, but the typewriter definitely got the proverbial ball rolling. With an ever expanding need for faster and better, which is the American way of life, its no wonder we all searched for a faster method of dictation and composition.
Since the dawn of religion, man has been creating scripts , all to better suit the needs of the church. There were scripts created to make religious manuscripts look flashy and awe inspiring. Some were created to fit more words per page. Others were created so the authors would be able to write faster and produce more manuscripts in a certain amount of time; all, on a not so massive scale (Literacy was not too common of a thing). Now, fast forward a bit to the middle of the 14th century… enter Gutenberg with the first movable type press. His small-scale printings of literature and Indulgences, started fueling the need and want to be literate, or was it God that was responsible for this? Some even speculate this invention was inspired by, and created for the church, but, regardless, without literate people, you can not have the want and desire nor the hustle and bustle for faster and faster composition.
After the first printing press came more printing presses, scattered all throughout Europe and eastward. With more printing presses came the importance of authorship and many revolutions of knowledge, because now, anyone with the right resources could share the information they wanted to share, with what seemed like an endless amount of people through the use scholarly journals.
Who wrote what and when was also starting to become a meaningful question. Before the press it used to be that not every work of literature was the same, so now there was room for tables of contents, indexes, and page numbering. We have the first steps of the first democratization of knowledge happening, which is the spread of knowledge amongst the common people. And with literature becoming a commercial enterprise, the very first copyright laws are put into place to protect the author’s intellectual property rights. Then came a decline of publishing in a universal language; Latin, replaced by the vernacular of each area in Europe, which increased the variety of works published. With the variety of languages being published came the standardization of the spellings of words and syntax in those languages which then brought about an importance of national language throughout each country.
The Industrial Revolution brought with it the Steam powered printing presses made from solid iron that could print on both sides of the page at once, making printers able to print millions of copies of a single page per day. This made it easier and more affordable to print the newspaper for the masses. Eventually, a pandemic much larger than Influenza had spread. Almost every citizen of every country is reading… every day.
With literacy comes the desire for more and more people to write, and become entrepreneurs, we have more doctors and lawyers, we have critical thinkers that influence other thinkers, politics and more religious sects. Everything outgrows itself; we need more, we need faster. Soon we have the typewriter, because less and less people want to write by hand, because more and more businesses are growing and require more paper work and legal drafts, and dictations. But the age old tradition of handwriting is still strong in the youth. Penmanship was now reserved for those in schools, those who could not afford typewriters, or to those who just had an affinity for the craft. As typewriters became plentiful so did the trash bags full of tossed standards. After abandoning Spencerian script for a really nice version of Cursive and then allowing arguments that the standards of cursive were too high and unnecessary, which led to yet another decline in the 60’s, nobody really cared anymore. We as a society, got caught up in Counter Culture, cinema, music, politics, and video games. The 70’s did not require as long of a curriculum for handwriting as before. The 80’s brought with it computers and word processors. Soon, even typewriters would go down in history, along with the disciplined craft they had replaced, and become obsolete.
With the ever expanding reach of technology grabbing hold of the world, soon we had e-mail, and even better word processors. Now, in high schools everyone became concerned about how many words one could type in a minute, instead of how smooth the rockers were on their cursive letters. Professors and teachers got lazy as well and just didn’t have time for handwriting. As most handwriting by this time was starting to become poor; In the 90’s teachers and scientists began to notice the decline in student’s penmanship. Schools were concentrating on it less and less. But hardly anyone cared; we did not need it anymore.
Today, some grade schools have already made the switch, replacing cursive handwriting lessons with keyboarding, and the school districts, each saying they have received equal amounts of praise and disapproval on the matter, move forward with confidence. We are full fledged, knee deep into the digital age. Everything we do is surrounded by some sort of digital something. So it is only a matter of time before the art of handwriting becomes lost altogether. Most likely parents will not even notice, because they themselves have been sucked into the digital vacuum, and will also concentrate on more dire weaknesses such as mathematics and science.
Still though, one can not deny the warmth they feel when reading a handwritten letter, or thank you note, or love note. And it doesn’t take much for legible handwriting. All you need is a steady hand, patience, and practice. We shouldn’t let this art die because the digital age is upon us, we need to spread the written word, embrace it. We need to put the loss of respect for handwriting into the forefront of American consciousness. We need to all of us not rely on computers for spelling and writing, and sentence structure. We need to write by hand, not all of the time, but just enough, so as to keep the flame burning for just a little bit longer…