Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fingerprint of the Heart

2000 years ago, speaking of his writing, the famous Roman poet Horace, said…

“I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze, and taller than the regal peak of the pyramids. I shall never completely die.”

In the 19th century, philosopher and poet George Santayana wrote, “There are books in which the footnotes or comments scrawled by some reader's hand in the margin are more interesting than the text.”

As late as 1999, American novelist, Jeffrey Deaver wrote, “Handwriting is a part of a human being. Like our sense of humor or imagination. It’s one of the only things about people that survives their death. Writing can last for hundreds of years. Thousands. It’s about as close to immortality as we can get. Whatever somebody wrote is a reflection of who they are. It doesn’t matter how the words are made or what they say, even if they’re mistaken or nonsensical. Just the fact that someone thought of the words and their hands committed them to paper is what counts. I’ve always thought of handwriting as a fingerprint of the heart and mind.”

In a December 2009 article titled “Handwriting is History” which appeared in Miller-McCune magazine, writer Anne Trubek contends that since handwriting is on the way out, we should stop teaching cursive in primary schools. Her argument includes the belief that handwriting is dying because it is a slow and inefficient way of getting our thoughts down. She believes that given our modern alternatives, it is actually a hindrance to thinking. Reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms Trubek is equating speed with quality or depth of thought? She suggests that new writing technology often leads us to romanticize older ways, and that many would describe computers as devoid of emotion and personality, that handwriting carries the stamp of intimacy and authenticity. In her view, this is a sentimental outlook.

The comments generated by Ms Trubek’s article were overwhelmingly opposed to her argument. About 2,000 comments were submitted, with 700 of the worst comments removed by the editors. From such a landslide of opposition we have to imagine that there are still many people who place value in the handwritten word.

The typewriter first promised greater speed in recording thoughts, and that was almost primitive when we compare it to today's computers and word processors. Modern technology allows us to “go faster.” It gives us the ability to think as fast as possible. Speed. This is what a keyboard does for millions. It allows us to go faster, but according to Ms Trubek, not because we want everything faster in our 21st century lives, but because we want more time to think. I find this logic hard to follow. Surely a slower pace gives one more time to think. Would any of the great classical thinkers have crystalized their thoughts better with a MacBook Pro? Could Alexander Hamilton have deduced his economic theories any better with a keyboard and a printer?

I don’t want to imply that the article “Handwriting is History” lacks perspective. Ms Trubek has included an anecdote about her grandmother, one which describes in a few lines the heart of all handwriting. She admits to herself that handwriting does in fact have a presence that can be absent in typed prose. Here is her story:

“I have a binder of notes my grandmother wrote shortly before she died. She scrawled her life story in thick black felt-tip on the backs of envelopes. I have been slowly typing up her notes to preserve them for the family, and as I squint to make out words, I sense the felt experience of her hand on paper. And I will admit that when I find a smooth expanse of sand or a bark-less tree trunk, I long to scratch my name in them.”

Is this not the very heartbeat of personal handwritten words?

“Handwriting is History,” by Anne Trubek; Miller-McCune magazine, December 2009.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America