The death of graphology?

My mother has exquisite penmanship (and an affinity to purple ink). I don't remember much about my father's writing, but I do recall that I always thought he had a strong, legible signature. Of course, my parents come from a generation that emphasized penmanship as a vital academic pursuit. For me, learning cursive writing in 3rd grade was also part of the curriculum. Looking at my handwriting now you'd think that almost all those repetitive exercises were lost on me.

I was talking to my mother the other day and she told me that the local schools were removing the teaching of cursive writing from the topics that would be taught. She said the reason was that so much of written communication now is done digitally on notebooks, netbooks, smartphones, tablets, and many other such devices. At first I was stunned, but then began to see the wisdom in the decision. Even so, I started to ponder what kinds of things the next generations of students might not comprehend and what skills might be lost.

  • Will young people be able to decipher cursive writing, especially if it is a digital font that mimics cursive writing? Or will it just look like Mandarin or Arabic or other funky squiggles?

  • What about the whole industry claiming to be able to decipher your personality from your handwriting? If 10 job applicants submit a sample of the same text message or Tweet ("D kwik brn fx jmps ovr D lazy dogg"), how will an employer be able to know which will be model workers and which are likely to end up embezzling hundreds of thousands from corporate accounts?

  • And what about all those reruns of Perry Mason where he brings in a blow-up of the signature on two checks and has the expert point out the differences in the signatures, proving that the killer was also trying to forge checks? Or that episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent that featured Stephen Colbert as the forger? They only caught him by figuring out that the documents he had "authenticated" were written by a left-handed person, which was oppo0site of the handedness of the supposed writer of the documents. Will young people stare at such scenes with little or no comprehension, as if they were watching someone dialing a rotary phone?


With regard to that last point, I always wondered if computers could be trained to be handwriting "experts." I mean, they can match fingerprints or at least find some given number of "points" to name the owner, right? Why couldn't two or more handwriting samples be examined and the differences or similarities between them be recognized and called out by a computer. (This paragraph is how I justify taking the time to write this blog.)

The fact that schools are no longer teaching students cursive writing  is a silly thing for me to get worked up about. Perhaps it's knowing that some of the pain I went through as a student--practicing making continuous ovals over and over and over again--will not be felt by students today. Maybe the class-time saved will be spent building up student's thumb muscles since that appears to be the writing tool of this and future generations.

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Clay B.'s picture

I saw this WikiHow article about a week after my last reply: This shouldn't be too much of a problem in the digital future.

Clay B.'s picture

Wise words.

I also wonder if the reliance on technology might lead to missed opportunities. For example, if I see an interesting pattern that I might want to incorporate in a future stained glass design, I can attempt to sketch it (maybe from memory if the original has passed by) in order to remember. Without having pencil and paper at hand (or even available), how do I capture that? Sure, if I have my handheld device at the ready, I can take a picture. However, if the opportunity is gone by the time I'm ready, I will have to hope my handheld has some drawing app to allow me to sketch.

Times are changing as is how we are able to interact with our environment.

anonymous's picture

If it's of consolation, then handwriting occupied a much larger place in Chinese thought... beyond fine-motor skills, it's also about proportion, grace, a sense of presence. We're in interesting times, when handwriting goes from being a basic skill to an optional one.

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