I have terrible handwriting. My penmanship has never been great, though I made good marks in that column on my grammar school report card. I abandoned cursive in high school for everything but my signature, which, let’s face it, has become a few letters with long trailing lines spilling out from them.
My wife and coworkers cannot keep themselves from pointing out how astonishingly, eye-achingly cramped, stunted and crippled my handwriting has become. For my coworkers there is a kind of mirthless joy in the show of trying to decipher my hieroglyphs. For my wife, there is the stone cold embarrassment of my abortive signature on documents and the inscrutable mystery that is my handwritten grocery list.
People generally assume that my handicap is a symptom of my strong digital bias. I don’t like making or receiving notes on paper. Other than printed books, which remain a precious joy, words on paper are generally a tedious obligation. I write something down and then I am obligated to figure out what to do with it. Worse, someone else writes something down and I am obligated to figure out how to do something with that. It frustrates me and makes me sad.
So I opt out. I generally don’t do paper. I take notes in several cloud-based apps or in the notepad on my phone. These notes file easily, are indexed automatically and can be searched on demand.
Still, it saddens me a little to realize that my poor handwriting isn’t simply a matter of inattention or disregard. It isn’t just personal preference. I can’t write as well as I used to. Writing by hand takes more effort than it should. I have to really pay attention and think about what I am doing. Contrary to what the research shows about effective information transfer, for me, writing by hand is generally more distracting and frustrating than useful.
As I said, people who know me are likely to assume my handwriting has suffered from disuse and inattention. The truth is very different. I ruined my handwriting through overuse. About 15 years ago, I wrote the better part of a novel in longhand on the back of scrap computer paper. I wrote so much so fast that my fingers learned unfortunate short cuts they now refuse to forget. During that time, I would write my pages and then share what I wrote with my wife. Increasingly, I realized that I couldn’t easily read or puzzle out entire sections of words I had written just minutes before. I stopped writing that way. Keyboard for me, please.
Now, when I try to jot out a simple to do list or make a note, my hand feels stupid. There is anxiety there that does not when my fingers are on the keyboard. I’m not particularly proud of my poor penmanship. I worry about the effect of the coming digital dark age when a mass black out or electromagnetic pulse renders my devices useless and I find myself reduced to remedial communication, like a chimp learning sign language. Still, it is useful, I suppose, to acknowledge one’s shortcomings, even if there is no active plan to make them better.
So, I am wondering, how is your handwriting these days? Do you still write things out by hand the way you used to do? Can people read your handwriting? Can you? I can’t be the only one. Can I?