Jessica Zafra on Umberto Eco and “The Lost Art of Handwriting”

The lost art of handwriting (in pencil)

The lost art of handwriting (in pencil)

The lost art of handwriting (in ink pen)

The lost art of handwriting (in ink pen)

Would these scribbles above have passed the inspection of Jessica Zafra’s second grade teacher? Would Umberto Eco gauge my cursive handwriting to still have “soul, style, or personality”? I also write in all-caps (I’m a Gemini, born in the Year of the Horse, and took up three years of Architecture at University).

The days when children were taught to write properly are long gone. Does it matter? Yes, says Umberto Eco. In The Guardian: Umberto Eco regrets the passing of good handwriting (Posted on 21 September 2009).

Recently, two Italian journalists wrote a three-page newspaper article (in print, alas) about the decline of handwriting. By now it’s well-known: most kids – what with computers (when they use them) and text messages – can no longer write by hand, except in laboured capital letters.

In an interview, a teacher said that students also make lots of spelling mistakes, which strikes me as a separate problem: doctors know how to spell and yet they write poorly; and you can be an expert calligrapher and still write “guage” or “gage” instead of “gauge”.

The tragedy began long before the computer and the cellphone.

The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. Early ballpoints were also very messy and if, immediately after writing, you ran your finger over the last few words, a smudge inevitably appeared. And people no longer felt much interest in writing well, since handwriting, when produced with a ballpoint, even a clean one, no longer had soul, style or personality.

Why should we regret the passing of good handwriting? The capacity to write well and quickly on a keyboard encourages rapid thought, and often (not always) the spell-checker will underline a misspelling.

Although the cellphone has taught the younger generation to write “Where R U?” instead of “Where are you?”, let us not forget that our forefathers would have been shocked to see that we write “show” instead of “shew” or “enough” instead of “enow”. Medieval theologians wrote “respondeo dicendum quod”, which would have made Cicero recoil in horror.

The art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and encourages hand-eye coordination.

The three-page article pointed out that writing by hand obliges us to compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. Thanks to the resistance of pen and paper, it does make one slow down and think. Many writers, though accustomed to writing on the computer, would sometimes prefer even to impress letters on a clay tablet, just so they could think with greater calm.

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