The Death of Handwriting

By: Malena Esposito

If you’re around my age, you might remember the torture of learning cursive in third grade, complete with the frustration of failing to connect the letters and defeating the letter “Q.”

You may also recall the agony you faced in middle school when learning how to type. Hand cramps, WPM’s, not being able to move your finger so far across the keyboard—it was the most dreaded part of your preteen school days.

However, if you’re as old as my grandparents, your dreaded experiences would consist of a wooden ruler and a nasty teacher smacking your hands after the slightest mistake.

Needless to say, times have changed a lot since. Classrooms with blackboards and desks connected to their chairs have been replaced by BlackBoards© and iPads with styluses.

But it’s not just BlackBoards and iPads, though. What about the all of the textbooks, apps, and tests, just a keyboard click away? How many times have you been in class and the first thing the students do itake out their laptops to look at a PowerPoint or take notes? How many times have you completed a transaction on your phone?

The computer age is here.

But why should we depend on technology to do everything for us? Handwriting is unique. The way we dot our i’s and cross our t’s—that’s just about a personal as a fingerprint. Your handwriting reflects you; it reflects your personality.

I’m not saying that technology isn’t efficient or effective. Of course it is, that’s exactly why we use it. I’m saying that taking a break from the screen and bringing out the good old ballpoint or number two wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

In fact, many studies prove that handwriting can be much more beneficial than typing, whether it be for work, school, or yourself.

Ever had a problem with achieving a goal? At the Dominican University of California, a study was conducted on those who wrote down their goals versus those who only thought of them. The final discovery was that those who wrote their goals out, as well as shared them amongst others, were 33% more likely to achieve them and maintain accountability.

Want to learn a foreign language? Don’t take out that computer! By writing out the foreign language you wish to learn, you learn how to incorporate words and phrases into full sentences. It’s a way to practice without physically speaking because ultimately you’re saying it in your head.

Or maybe, if you’re like me, color-coding is your cup of tea, which is also beneficial. If you’ve seen my notes or my pencil case, you know that there is not a single pencil in there, and that there’s a color for every word you see. By doing this, it’s a lot easier to find information and remember what was written. When I try to recall a piece of information, I often imagine myself physically writing it, and then I try to visualize what the color was.

So, why does this happen? Well, without getting too Nick Swafford on you (click here, here, here, or here, if you don’t know what I’m talking about), the brain is made up of multiple parts, each in charge of processing different information. These parts work together in a neural circuit, which is initiated when we perform a task as mentally stimulating as writing. However, as Karin James of Indiana University proved in a 2012 study, some tasks, like tracing a letter or typing, is not as mentally stimulating, therefore making learning harder. In this study, pre-literate kids were given an index card and were asked to either trace, type or draw the letter or shape presented to them. To document brain activity, an MRI scan was done after being given the same image. Researchers concluded that when drawing freely, three areas of the brain were progressively encouraged more so than tracing or typing. These areas are known as the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus, and the posterior parietal cortex. Using this information, Dr. James concluded that freehanded, messy handwriting might help a child learn the letter. “Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable,” she said.

Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington also conducted a study that matched James’ conclusion. Using elementary-level children from second to fifth grade, the psychologist found that when writing, more ideas were expressed, increased neural engagement was shown in the areas using working memory, and overall activation was initiated.

So, there it is. Handwriting. An art that has been around for thousands of years, only to fall to technology. Is that really the world you want to live in? While it’s hard to imagine handwriting being completely erased from society, it’s unfortunately easy to picture a toddler learning on a tablet. Be interactive. Pick up a pencil. Write a letter. And when you make mistakes, don’t backspace them as if they never existed, erase them as if they’re something to improve upon.

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