(Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday June 13, 2014)
In yet another attempt to purge some of the dust-collecting items in our home, I went through the old correspondence drawers. Two of them.
I kept all letters that my parents wrote from the time I left home at the age of 18, same with my sister’s , and my close friends’ also. I kept the greeting cards too.
It was only two drawers, one and a half to be precise, so it shouldn’t have taken too long. But it did. I got caught up in reading some of the letters, including some very candid ones written by my niece when she turned seven and was trying her hand, literally, at handwriting.
Then an old nag surfaced. The disappearance of handwriting. Cursive writing, as we call it.
My sons have always been fascinated with the magic of it. They love the roundness of words as they appear on the paper, and they love the almost mysterious nature of a handwritten letter.
Many of today’s kids type instead of writing down on paper, because they’ve learned to do it so fast you get dizzy just looking at them do it. They get even faster by using acronyms for everything and writing as if they drew letters and numbers from a hat and threw them on the screen. Spelling is taking a hard hit as we speak.
Short words become shorter and so does attention span.
Most of today’s children will not write a single handwritten letter or have a journal. Have you tried handwriting after typing for a while? It’s painfully slow, you make mistakes, and the hand seems to be disconnected from the brain. Patience is a precious, rare commodity these days.
But what also happens is that when you write things down, they seem to stick better.
Some researchers who looked into how the brain does it all went as far as to suggest that in some cases dyslexia may be lessened should we return children to good old handwriting. It’s worth a try anyway.
Because, they say, when you struggle to learn how to write that letter, many areas of the brain fire up and there’s a whole process involved in mastering it.
Printing and typing, or writing the letters following a dotted line just don’t get the brain firing up so intensely.
Journal writing, by hand, has been used a therapeutical tool by many a psychologists over the years and many people swear by keeping a written account of their days. Ideas flow freely, you just allow the brain to drip onto the paper and the time dedicated to it is a time of solitude and an opportunity for introspection.
A mirror of some sort, you could say.
When we write by hand we become mindful by default.
Reflection time gives us a measure of where we are in the world, allows us to think without being rushed and encourages brain and personality growth.
The letters I was perusing a couple of days ago tell more than the stories within. They are a reflection of the people who wrote them; a glimpse into time, then. Just like that, my many journals over the years tell stories of more than just life happenings.
Letters and journals are human maps. You can read emotions, just like you can read words. I cannot escape the feeling that we will lose something precious and essential to our nature if we live them behind.
Typing may be fast and efficient but it’ll never be the same. Acronyms have been around for a while. Journalists and students jotting notes have always employed them with success. While handwriting, that is.
Students taking notes by hand learn better than when they type course notes. Having but paper and pen, and a whole lot of attention directed to the teacher rather than a handling a laptop, while simultaneously texting or updating some social media status, keeps you present in a room where you’re supposed to do nothing but acquire knowledge, think and ideally, ask enough questions to start healthy and topic-oriented debates.
Writing things down makes you think. Hitting backspace starts happening before you write things down more often than not. Perhaps that could serve as an enhancing feature of ‘freedom of expression.’