I Once Had Great Handwriting But Now It’s Useless


There was a time when I was known for my pristine cursive penmanship, as my third grade teacher called it. I was mostly practicing my autograph for when I would become the next Oprah, duh. But, as computers replaced composition books, my dove-like, ball-point grace turned into chicken scratch. And, I know I’m not alone.

In fact, The Huffington Post reported that Pitt County North Carolina joined 46 other states and the District of Columbia to adopt the new Common Core State Standards, which replaces cursive lessons with keyboard proficiency.

The main reason is obvious. Times are changing. And in this Digital Age, students need to be prepared for the computerized writing methods that dominate their social lives and their future careers. And so, my friends, we are seeing the demise of good, legible handwriting, which means we may see our “Stay sweet!” and “Have a great summer!” yearbook scribbles in museums one day.

There’s no doubt that digital killed the writing star I once was. It’s not that my messy handwriting symbolizes my creative mind or some sort of praise-worthy IQ level. It means, that I simply don’t care enough nor do I practice enough to improve it. What for? So that people will compliment my reminder-sticky-note wallpaper? I like that people can’t read it, especially when I scribble my ideas down in brainstorms. I’d like to see my coworkers try and copy. I can barely even read it myself! It’s a competitive advantage really…

Living my life on smartphones and computers, I’ve even seemed to adopt a phantom limb mentality with computer keys I use as crutches in everyday life only to realize this unhealthy reliance when having to mail something. I swear you’ll catch me wanting to backspace a typo in a zip code, spell-check the city name, control+F the bank letter (that I’ve already asked via email to go paperless) to find the questions they need answered.

Looking back on my increased use of electronic communication in my younger years, without practice, my notes to friends passed in class looked more like letters for ransom or a doctor’s prescription. Actually, I distinctly remember a middle school teacher holding my test paper up in front of the class, asking “Ok, which one of you boys didn’t put your name on your paper?” I raised my hand with adolescent disdain.

Noah Jeffrey, cofounder of the Chicago-based start-up Peckish.com, says that his handwriting used to be immaculate too. And, he hasn’t even really evaluated its quality lately because he never has a reason to handwrite anything.

“The last remnant of my handwriting needs was for taking notes (on books, lectures, presentations), but this died away a month ago when I finally got an iPhone. I can now take notes on my iPhone that automatically sync with my computer (Evernote), and I no longer have to bring a notepad,” Jeffrey said.

“I think the main reason handwriting is not necessary is the physical limitations on speed our hand faces. We will never be able to hand-write as fast as we can learn to type. Typing more than doubles writing speed by bringing both hands into the picture and incorporating the use of all the fingers. Plus, it’s less labor intensive, meaning our hands cramp from writing far quicker than they cramp from typing. Right now, we are developing more ways to communicate ideas without the use of paper and pen.”

That’s what Jeffrey is doing at Peckish.com. Instead of making a written list for snacks you want to buy for your desk junk drawer, you can list it an order it all online.

A survey from the British printing and mailing company Docmail backed this up. They study found that the average person hasn’t written by hand for 41 days, one in three people haven’t even had a reason to handwrite for six months and things that traditionally remained handwritten in the Digital Age like shopping lists and birthday cards are more often done electronically as an e-mail or text message.

Moreover, two thirds of the 2,000 people surveyed said that the things they do still write by hand are usually for their eyes only, which wouldn’t require them to worry about legibility, including reminder sticky notes. More than half of those respondents admitted that their penmanship has noticeably declined over time, and one in seven people said they were ashamed of the quality of their handwriting.

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    • Lastango

      Excellent observations. Quality penmanship seems rarely found outside the older generation, and I wouldn’t be surprised that in a test we could accurately stratify handwriting samples into age groups.
      Is the decline of penmanship a sign of positive change? I’m mixed on this. Certainly, typing is faster, and can be edited. But what if it is changing our intellectual capabilities for the worse? I’ve read about some findings that PC use is impeding our ability to concentrate for extended periods. By its very uncorrectability, longhand slows us down and forces us to think.
      Then there’s the example of calculators. People can’t do simple math in their heads anymore, and our failure to acquire this skill has real-world impacts on our decision-making ability. For instance, we’re more easily manipulated by writers and politicians if we can’t do quick, basic mental analysis on their numeric “facts”. IMO it’s a clear illustration of the important perils hidden in progress.
      One other thing: penmanship has always been considered a personal accomplishment. People who handwrite well were admired for their skill, and their graphic style added to the enjoyment of reading what they wrote. They were communicating by more than just the content of the text. It’s a shame to see that form of self-expression go away.
      Perhaps the rarity opens up new ways to impress someone. Ferinstance, a handwritten letter to a potential sweetheart would go a long way!

    • Ara

      I’m pretty young (21) and have very good handwriting. My dad made me practice everyday after school for years. But I see it starting to deteriorate even though i take most of my notes by hand (grad-school). I think I’m just lazy.