A Digital Legacy?
I recently posted an article on Blogcritics, “Death of an Industry?”, about the impact of digital media on traditional publishing. The article seemed to touch a nerve, as any discussion of e-books versus p-books seems to do. However, the article sparked a volley of comments that touched on a different aspect of the whole digital-analog divide: how digital words will impact our legacy for future generations.
Some wondered if hardware obsolescence would render our digital creations inaccessible to future readers. Or, as one person put it, “how will the 30th century archeologist learn anything about civilization in the [21st] century?” and then went on to worry that digitalization “may lead to this becoming a ‘lost century.’” Another countered with the example of the Rosetta Stone, sure that “30th century archeologists will be no less resourceful in deciphering the intricacies of 21st century digital media.”
While I absolutely love my keyboard, part of me is saddened at the rapid pace at which it is replacing the pen. I guess you could say that I have a digital mind and an analog heart.
Trash or Treasure?
With respect to written communication, certainly blogs and social media provide an unprecendented quantity of information about people’s daily thoughts and doings. Regardless of whether you think that all of this unfiltered stream-of-consciousness content is mostly blather cluttering up the historical record or the makings of a fascinating inside look at life in the 2000s, I would argue that something is being lost in the transition to a digital, typewritten world. The loss isn’t so much in the content, it’s in the presentation.
Handwriting as a Personal Connection
Handwritten letters create more of a personal connection between reader and writer. After all, the reader knows that the writer’s hand held the pen and skimmed across the page as he/she committed those words to paper. And there’s something oddly endearing about the imperfections of handwriting, The scratch-outs and crusts of dried correction fluid, showing a change of thought or momentary lapse of attention. Words being squeezed into a disappearing margin or being run down the side of the page, whether from lack of planning or the writer simply finding they had more to say than they thought. The varying shades of ink as the writer applied pressure to the pen, a telltale sign of passion and excitement, regardless of what the words actually say.
And the handwriting itself? It symbolizes a person in a way that typewriting probably never will. Like a particular perfume, there’s something about the elegant looped script of my mother’s handwriting that has become synonymous with “Mom” and something about the curiously slanted and rounded letters of my husband’s writing that is uniquely him. And nothing quite compares to the endearingly misshapen letters of my children as they learned to write. Their unruly letters somersault across the page and spelling mistakes remain steadfastly in place, no hyper-vigilant spell checker there to automatically correct them.
The Future of Handwriting?
The handwritten word is an endangered species in our modern society and will likely become even more so as voice-to-text technology improves and more gadgets that have yet to be conceived of are invented. My hope is that technology will find a way to meld the two, like we are seeing with tablets and handwriting recognition software. That way, we would have the best of both worlds: the ease and clarity of digital communication and the charm and personality of handwritten letters and notes.
Do you applaud the demise of handwriting or will you miss it when it’s gone?
Photos courtesy of J. Pockele and D. Sharon Pruitt