Sunday, July 19, 2015

The handwriting on the wall is digital

The rare work-related meetings that I attend--remember, I am átopos--I go with a notebook and a pen.  I write down the key points, even if I don't have to follow-up on anything.  I don't take my laptop or any electronic gadget.  I write things down. You know, that old-fashioned handwritten notes?  The original "digital" form!  I find that jotting things down helps me remember the important things.  I suspect that the act helps my brain separate the wheat from the chaff, as they say.

In my classes, I rarely ever write anything anymore on the board.  Some terms it is never.  Increasingly it is never ever that I use the white-board (I can't even recall the last time I had a blackboard in the classroom!)

My office has a couple of shelves of handwritten notes from students.  One of my favorites is a two-page letter from a student thanking me for the teacher/guide that I apparently was to her.  Two pages of handwritten text; imagine that!

A handwritten piece is a reminder to me that we are humans.  In fact, handwriting is so artisanal. We might--and do--use machines, but a handwritten letter or a thank-you card is wonderfully human even in how the lettering towards the end does not look the same as in the beginning.  In the digital font world, like even here in this blog-post the letter "e" at the beginning is the same as here.    
Unlike digital’s precision, writing is blurry individuality under a general system. But in addition to this, we all have our own personalized understanding of arrows, squiggles, double-underlines and so on—little personal codes we develop over time to “talk to ourselves.” To write by hand is to always foreground an inevitable uniqueness, visually marking out an identity in opposition to, say, this font you’re reading right now.
In a world where people seem to communicate via the hieroglyphics of emojis, and vowel-free txt msgs, the chicken-scrawl handwriting that most of us have is well on its way out, it seems.
what pens do offer is both practical and symbolic resistance to the pre-programmed nature of the modern web—its tendency to ask you to express yourself, however creatively and generatively, within the literal and figurative constraints of a small, pre-defined box. There is a charming potential in the pen for activity that works against the grain of those things: to mark out in one’s own hand the absurdities of some top ten list, or underlining some particularly poignant paragraph in a way that a highlight or newly popular screenshotting tool doesn’t quite capture. Perhaps it’s the visual nature of the transgression—the mark of a hand slashed across a page—that produces emblematically the desire for self-expression: not the witty tweet or status update, nor just the handwritten annotation, but the doubled, layered version of both, the very overlap put to one’s own, subjective ends. And then there is more simple pleasure: that you are, in both an actual and metaphorical sense, drawing outside the lines. If one can draw over and annotate a web page and then send it to a friend, for example, the web at least feels less hegemonic, recalling the kind of interactivity and freedom of expression once found in the now-broken dream of blog comment sections.
It will be awesome, indeed, if the comments at this blog were handwritten.  What a joy it will be to scribble on a Facebook page wall ;)



Anne in Salem said...

Yes, writing notes by hand will help you remember them. That is the reason young students have to write their spelling words 10 times. The more senses involved in learning, the better the retention.

Every now and again, I will be inspired to write a note by hand to a friend. The reaction is always the same - appreciation for something personal in the real mailbox mixed with a little wonder that someone would actually do that. My kids don't appreciate my lessons, but they are never allowed to email a thank you. They have stationary and must use it for all gifts.

Unfortunately, with so little writing in schools now and no focus on penmanship, chicken scrawl is a generous description of what passes as handwriting now. There are days I can't even read an employee's address on his I9 form.

Sriram Khé said...

You are one tough mama, eh ... good for you. And, more importantly, good for your kids.

It is funny that the Tamil equivalent of "chicken scrawl" was what I remember my teachers and elders using to express their disgust at poor handwriting. "Kozhi Kirukkina maathiri"--if Ramesh ends up reading this, I bet he will concur.

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