Froma Bird's Eye View

Commentary by Raven West

Is the Pen Dead?

There has been talk recently (see links below) that schools are no longer going to teach penmanship. With students as young as kindergarten texting and tweeting, will there come a day when writing with a pen becomes a lost art?

Think about it. When was the last time you wrote a check, or for that matter with direct deposit, even signed the back of one? When was the last time you physically addressed an envelope, or hand wrote a letter? While we all may feel a sense of satisfaction that we’re somehow saving a tree or two, what we’re losing in the process is so much more serious.

Stop reading this and pick up a pen, if you can find one and write something. Anything. Feel the energy flowing from your brain, down your arm, through your hand and fingers. Watch the strokes of the pen transform that energy into words. Your words, your energy is now a part of that paper, from that moment to eternity. And that energy, that small part of your soul, is now transferred to the person who reads your words. How powerful!

There’s nothing quite like the feel or the sight of ink on paper. There’s a reason why no two signatures are identical. When you write with a pen, each letter has it’s own distinct personality, even if you write one letter over and over, like snowflakes, no two will be exactly alike.

Now, type your name. No matter what the font you choose, each letter is so damn perfect, without any personality or flaws. Each sentence, each page, identical to the previous, with no character in the characters. You could have typed that word, or someone else could have, or a million other people, and no one would know that it was you who wrote it.

I starting writing a diary when I was 13, and kept it up every year since. Looking back today, I can visually see not only the growth and maturing of the words, but the changes in the handwriting that also grew and matured over the years. There are changes in the script, showing my emotions at that time they were written. Sometimes I changed to block letters, other times there was a mixture of the two.

I started with perfect lines, then notice that they started slanting upwards, or down depending on my mood at the time. Some years I’ve filled several books, while others there were many empty pages. I could see the times I jotted down random thoughts while under the influence of some legal or perhaps illegal drug. Without even reading the words, I can feel the emotion dripping from the pages as I wrote about my best friend’s death, or the birth of my first child. I can read my emotions by the way the letters are scrawled, or happy, and experience a bit of a person from decades past in a way that would not be possible if all those texts had been computer generated and looked exactly the same.

Without penmanship, we would be lost in a sea of conformity, destined to sound, look, and write the same.

I can recall my first act of independent rebellion took place in elementary school during one of our earlier penmanship classes. We were being instructed on how to write a capital “I”. I thought it was a total waste of time to start the letter on the right, curve it to the left, then cross over to the right again to connect to the next letter. So, I started my “I” on the left. I failed that letter “I” course, but to this day, that’s how I write my “I” and no one else does it that way. That one penmanship class defined who I was, and who I going to be; a very unique, rebellious and completely independent “I”.

With each new technology we gain, we seem to lose a bit of our individuality. Even our mistakes become self-correcting and generic. Perfection so bland it denies our sense of self.

The early manual typewriters had, at least, some of the writer’s character. A letter was darker when the writer hit the key hard, lighter when they didn’t, but today’s keyboards have no such feel. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit the keyboard, the print comes out exactly the same every time.

Now, with the explosion of digital ebooks read on a generic computer screen, every letter looks exactly like every other letter. All the “voices” of the authors sound exactly the same, and it’s one more step away from a personal reading experience and a giant leap away from the personal connection of the author to the reader.

There is a reason why fans of authors will wait on long lines to have that author physically put their signature on the book’s inner page. With every pen stroke, a bit of the writer’s soul is transferred onto the page, and the fan now feels as if they have a personal connection to that author through their signature.

My handwriting is an expression of myself. I’ve developed a special signature for book signings where the “n” in Raven curves around to cross the “t” in West. It’s special, it’s unique and it’s mine to give and share, but how exactly do I sign a Kindle or an iPad?

When every digital book read on an iPad or iPhone looks exactly like every other, it will no longer matter who the author is, or even if there is an author at all. It just be an IBM computer named Watson.

And to me, that is a greater loss that a couple of trees.

CBS Reports

Boston.com

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