This time of year when Christmas cards come though the letter box seems to me to be the one occasion when handwriting matters. While e-cards are in vogue and a great money saver, there is something special about digging out the best pen, or even a half decent biro, and doing Real Writing.
According to an article in the Guardian, research commissioned by online stationer Docmail earlier this year revealed that the average time since an adult last scribbled was 41 days. But it also found that one in three of us has not had cause to write anything “properly” for more than six months.
Many claims are made for the power of handwriting on our psyche and development. Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva who said: ‘Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.’ He believes it helps with reading and learning the alphabet.
Now I have spent a lot of my working life with people with dyslexia who often have dreadful handwriting which they struggle to read and have seen the way that touch typing can transform composition and spelling as people move from thinking in terms of individual letter shapes to writing whole words so I am not excited by such assertions and I do not accept that handwriting helps develop muscle memory whereas computer don’t.
I am also quite shocked by notion put forward in the article by historian Philippe Artières that doctors and detectives in the late 19th and early 20th century found signs of deviance among lunatics and delinquents, simply by examining the way they formed their letters. Quite possibly these people were neither mad, nor bad but simply dyslexic.
However, I will admit that handwriting is very individual and personal compared to word processing. I am amazed how many people’s handwriting I can still recgnise at a glance after a gap of many years. I am also saddened when I open a card from an old friend and see how their handwriting has started to break down with age .
Handwriting is our personal mark, it reveals something of our identity and as such is very powerful. We need to be careful how we use it.