Do you have a pen on you? Right now?
If you’re at work there’s probably one rolling around in your desk drawer, or maybe a colorful collection growing out of a cylindrical cage by your computer monitor.
If are at work, though, there’s a strong chance you haven’t picked up a pen to write anything of importance in a while, certainly nothing you intend to be seen by your colleagues. You’re not alone. The average adult goes around 40 days without writing anything by hand. More than 1 in 3 of us haven’t written anything meaningful by hand in the past six months.
The obvious culprits behind this decline in the use of handwriting are the laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets that have become the dominant form of modern communication. These same devices, however, could become vital tools in resuscitating and preserving the art of handwriting and saving us from a future restricted to quick scribbles on sticky notes.
The Decline of Handwriting
The decline of handwriting has pushed the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation into action. As an obviously interested party in the diminishing use of handwriting, the AHDF has formed the Campaign for Cursive.
The campaign began in direct response to the removal of cursive handwriting as a core requirement of U.S. elementary schools. Its stated goal is to bring recognition to the importance of handwriting in brain development, and it maintains that handwriting in particular benefits memory, focus, creativity, and individualism.
Those are obviously all noble reasons to push handwriting among kids, but as the campaign itself has noted, the reason the practice is declining in schools is because more time is being devoted to the electronic forms of writing that dominate professional and personal communication among adults.
AHAF is hardly anti-technology. It has just formed a partnership with video conferencing platform Zoom to enhance its own internal and external communications. And we think it has the right idea, and could take it further. Embracing the concept of visual, digital communication could help the foundation stage its fight for the handwritten word.
Handwriting Apps for iPad
The iPad and other tablet devices may represent the best fusion of old world handwriting and new world digital communication.
It’d be hard to mount a case for the introduction, or re-introduction, of a pen-style stylus for a smartphone given the screen limitations, and the keyboard/screen layout of a laptop (and desktop for that matter) makes using an electronic pen on a vertical monitor unrealistic.
A tablet, however, is all screen, lies flat on a desk, and the pop-up, on-screen digital keyboard has always been a compromise since it takes up a good third of the monitor. Judging from the number of handwriting-related apps currently available, there’s already a clear public interest in using a stylus on a table.
Among them are the default Apple Notes app, free app Paper, Penultimate–which emulates the different forms of paper you’d likely doodle on in the real world from graph to perforated–and Notability, which combines a little more multimedia potential. The AHAF could combine these apps with their own use of video conferencing to demonstrate a viable digital future for handwriting on tablets.
Using Technology to Teach Handwriting
There are a number of video calling apps available for use on iOS and Android tablets. Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and Messenger will all perform as well on a tablet as they do on the more popular smartphone devices.
That creates the opportunity for online, real-time handwriting lessons. A group like Campaign for Cursive could start offering such aids to adults who have watched their skills wither from lack of use.
Staged within a standard video call between teacher and student the lesson would hinge on the ability to share screens between callers. The apps listed above can all pull off that trick, so the process of demonstration, emulation, repetition, and real-time correction and comment could occur remotely. The teacher could watch the shared screen as the student writes to monitor the final product, and switch to the traditional chat window view to observe the physical mechanics behind the dotted “I”s and crossed “T”s.
That’s a way of improving handwriting skills and encouraging its use, but the future of handwriting–or rather its future as a formal part of our lives rather than a haphazard backup resource–will depend on whether or not it can become as easy to use and understand as an email or messaging service.
The tablet again offers a potential solution. It provides all the internet access of a desktop, has the mobility of a smartphone, and the broad layout suited for some digital penmanship. It could be the perfect tool for taking and disseminating notes from a video conference attended on the same device, or collaborating in real-time on shared digital whiteboards within a meeting.
If there’s a reason to keep on handwriting well into the coming century most likely it’ll be based around tablet technology. Perhaps developers will magnetize them so we can stick them on the fridge as “get milk” reminders.