Is Handwriting Obsolete?

Do you remember that era of uncertainty, back around the end of high school, when you were trying to figure out what to do with your life? Hoping that the right answer would magically appear before me, I took a test which promised a list of possible careers based on my primary and secondary traits.

For my blend of opposites (artistic and analytical), there were only two suggestions: fur designer – I think we have already established that I am probably not Cruella de Vil – and graphologist. I had to look the latter up: it means a person who practices the art of handwriting analysis.

Not the kind where you give evidence in court that the purported suicide note was written not by the lord of the manor but by the devious machinating butler (that’s graphanalysis, part of the science of Questioned Document Examination) but the fortunetelling sort, where you inspect a piece of someone’s handwriting and tell them what kind of person they are.

Jehan Georges Vibert --The Fortune Teller, private collection
Your handwriting suggests that you are credulous and easily taken in.

(Note: if you want to find out what kind of person you are, examining yourself will get you further than getting a stranger to examine your handwriting.)

I found the idea interesting, read a book or two about it, and then lost interest when I found it was considered a pseudoscience. But my interest in handwriting remained, and to this day I get irritated by people who proclaim that there’s no need to teach children to write by hand as in the future everyone will be using digital devices for everything and no-one will need to write anything by hand ever again.

Note: predicting the future is also a pseudoscience. Unless it’s either very short-range, or admitting a wide margin of error, or both. Refusing to teach children a practical skill because they might not need it is not responsible educating. That’s like abolishing driver’s ed because someone’s invented driverless cars. Yes, there are many ways in which inputting data into a digital device can replace writing things by hand. There are also many ways in which it can’t.

George Baxter- The Lover’s Letter Box
No one ever thinks of looking through a tree’s Sent folder

For example, people are more likely to remember things that they have written out by hand, because forming the letters and the words is a more interactive experience than pressing a series of keys or tapping a series of places on a screen. Paper and pen/cil are a lot more durable than an electronic device, don’t require ongoing access to electricity and don’t cost so much to produce.

They’re also a lot more flexible. If you want to do something different with your pen/cil and paper, you don’t have to wait for someone to write a program or app for you. You just do it. And while there are still language barriers, format is less of an issue. No one has ever had their love-letter returned by the postal service because their beloved’s letterbox couldn’t open that filetype.

Nor is paper subject to attacks from malware, or disappearances due to bugs in the system (although some kinds of insects do like to eat paper). Nor do you have to worry about Big Brother reading everything you write and taking notes. Nor do you have to buy a new one every five minutes because this kind of paper is totally two years ago and your pen won’t write on it any more.
Lady Blogger with Her Maid, after Vermeer
I am not a Luddite – not really. I welcome the recent suggestion that New Zealand school children should be taught to code. I think it’s an excellent idea to actually teach children to master the ways of the digital world, instead of being passive consumers. But that should be in addition to teaching them to write with their hands, not instead of. Just as radio, film and TV have not replaced books, nor e-books their physical counterparts, typing and tapping have not replaced handwriting – and until they do, it’s robbing children of a skill not to teach them how.

Of course, one can go too far the other way. I see no reason to force children to learn an elaborate cursive with letters that bear no resemblance to their usual appearance (looking at you, D’Nealian upper and lower case Zs). While a certain aesthetic quality is a bonus, the main thing is to be clearly legible. I can still remember the terror of some of my contemporaries at university on being told that if the lecturer could not decipher their exam papers, they would be failed.

Some might argue that the natural solution is to allow everyone to write their exams on a computer, but that massively increases the opportunities for cheating, and the corresponding efforts to prevent it. And what if some innocent student is busily typing away and the power goes out? Or the connection fails? Or a glitch destroys all their work?


Pen and paper are one kind of technology; digital devices are another. As is so often the case, the wisest course (it seems to me) is not to blindly promote one technology and deride or ignore the other, but to use each in the ways that it best suits, thus getting the best of both worlds in the strengths of each. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

$20: Freedom, Life – or Pasta?

Flickr - cyclonebill - Pasta med svinemørbrad og grøntsager i rødvinssauce
“Giving is often the most efficient use of money. For example, $20 doesn’t even cover a dinner out for our family. If I invest $20 at 12 percent (unlikely in the current economy), in ten years it will be $65.99. If I give it away, that $20 could teach one child to read and write. That child could break out of the cycle of poverty in ten years. Or my $20 could provide chickens to a family. Those chickens could give hundreds or thousands of new chickens or eggs in ten years, saving the lives of children that might have died from starvation or helping a family have enough money from selling the extras to send their kids to school. How does that compare to a plate of pasta or an invested $65 dollars? [sic] It isn’t comparable.”
Lorilee Lippincott, The Simple Living Handbook

I Have A Dream

I have a dream… a great and far-extending dream.

Lincoln Memorial I Have a Dream Marker 2413

I dream of a world where people are not trapped on a consumerist treadmill – either as consumers or consumed. A world where everyone has enough, and no-one is weighed down by too much. A world that values quality above quantity. A world where beauty is seen in individuality, both in people and in things. Standardization is an excellent thing in a cup measure but it is not a measure for humans.

I dream of a world in which people are not trafficked to feed the desires of others, whether for cheap goods, sex, or service. A world where the innate dignity of human-ness is respected. A world where sex is a matter of mutual committed love, not a matter of force or a financial transaction.

I dream of a world where people are not treated as interchangeable units, but valued for their individual talents. A world where the educational systems encourage those talents to flourish, so they can be used for the benefit of all, and not merely the profit of one’s employer. A world where everyone has something to do, and can experience the satisfaction of a job well done. A world where work is a right and a blessing, not an onerous burden or a forlorn hope.

look up

I dream of a world where people are rewarded for the value of their work rather than the prestige of it. A world where people are considered of greater importance than efficiency, profitability and wealth. A world where the economy serves the people, not the other way around. A world where governments act in their people’s best interests, rather than compelling the people to act in their government’s best interests.

A world without corruption. A world where the justice systems provide justice, but are not deaf to mercy; a world where sentences are aimed at restoration and rehabilitation, not at retribution and revenge. A world where laws are simple (and few) enough to be understood by all, and founded on fairness and common-sense, rather than the preferences of powerful lobbies.

A world where there is enough food for everyone, food that is healthy both for the people who eat it, and the land which produces it. A world that is tended like a garden, not hunted down like prey. A world where housing, clothing, and all the necessities and joys of life are produced in ways that harm neither the environment nor the people which produce them, nor those people who eventually use them.

I dream of a world where people do not have to risk their lives to seek a better life for themselves or their children; a world where people in need are not smuggled across borders or turned back with violence, but welcomed with open arms and open hands. I dream of a world where the right to live is not conditional on the acceptance of others.

Ivan Kulikov Dreamer

I dream of a world which experiences the peace which is more than the absence of war; a world where even interpersonal conflicts are handled with grace. A world where people are taught the life skills they really need: how to care for themselves and their families, how to manage their resources well, how to have healthy relationships. A world where communities are stronger than corporations.

I dream of a world where people with mental or physical disabilities are not marginalized, dehumanized, or hidden away; but rather treated as human beings just like the rest of us: different, but the same.

I dream of a world where medical systems are not understaffed, overworked, over-prescribing or over-standardized, but able to treat each person individually, taking the time to help them understand the situation and their options, and to be an active participant in their healing rather than the passive undergoer of standardized treatment.

There is more to this dream than I can say, and people have used many different words to try to sum up different parts of it. Lagom. Environmentally friendly. Fair Trade. Boundaries. Open borders. Restorative justice. Abolition.
But I have one phrase which sums this all up for me: the kingdom of God.

Wickham Market Hoard

The kingdom of God, Jesus said, is like a treasure buried in a field. When a man found it, he sold off everything he had just so he could buy that field, and possess the treasure within it.
And this is a dream that is worth giving up everything for.

I can’t make this dream come true all by myself, I know that. But I can work on the parts of it that are given me to affect, and encourage those who I recognize as working on it too. I really do believe there is nothing more worth doing with the one life given to me.

If something is not worth dying for, it’s not worth living for either, because either way you are giving your life to it.
What dream are you giving your life to?