Handwriting in the digital age
"Handwriting is one of the key aspects that make us human"

As a programmer, I sometimes find myself asking a rather simple question: why, amidst all the technical solutions around me, do I still use a paper notepad? It’s not like there aren’t any good digital solutions to keep and share notes. Yet, I still feel compelled to take a pen in my hand and scribble something down. Perhaps that’s the issue — “I need to get a drawing tablet!” but, I think there’s more to it than meets the eye.

During lunch last Christmas, my uncle told me a short anecdote of how his friend’s five-year-old son who, still not knowing how to read or write, took his father’s phone and looked up a Lego set he wanted using the “Ok Google” voice command. Now, this really struck a chord with me — if technology can be used in such innovative and intuitive ways, maybe there’s no more reason to teach kids handwriting anymore. Surely, if children were taught typing and computer literacy instead, it would prove to be more useful to everyone in the long term — faster communication, fewer errors, all of that great stuff.

The world would keep spinning if all pens disappeared but, if it were computers, it would be an entirely different story. However, I can only agree with this idea in the most technical and objective sense. Personally, I’d say that handwriting is one of the key aspects that make us human. Anyone can press a few buttons to construct a word but a written one, just like a snowflake, is unique. Not unlike music, there are synthesizers that can replicate the sound of a musical instrument to an uncanny degree but, a live recording will almost always win our hearts. Maybe for the exact reason that it’s not perfect. After all, it’s only human to make mistakes.

“There are synthesizers that can replicate the sound of a musical instrument to an uncanny degree but, a live recording will almost always win our hearts.”

Going back to the previous thought, what if we cancelled all cursive handwriting education? Many would object and point to scientific research that proves we remember handwritten notes far better than typed ones in the educational sphere. But, with new solutions like Sans Forgetica, a typeface focused on memory retention, this argument starts to lose its power. As for cursive specifically, as much as I love it, I can’t defend it. It’s harder to read and not much, if at all, faster to write than regular print handwriting. But, there’s something special about receiving a handwritten note, especially one that looks like an old document.

On all technical aspects, the person who sent it is probably wasting paper, ink and even wax if we’re being really fancy here but, it adds a personal touch that an email will always lack. And, we’d still have this aspect even if handwriting wasn’t taught anymore. I’d say it would feel even more special if someone went out of their way to learn how to write just to send a few letters.

So, why do I still write on a paper notepad in cursive using a fountain pen like a guy from the last century? I’d wager it’s the same reason why people like mechanical watches over battery-powered quartz ones. The former are more expensive, fragile, bulky and have no real advantages whatsoever yet, we still find them fascinating and cool. And, sometimes, that’s all the reason we need.