Handwriting, A Lost Art?

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Apr 30, 2011

"Writing words by hand is a technology that's just too slow for our times, 
and our minds."

Anne Trubek

Every time I get mail I quickly look for anything written out by hand. I can go days without seeing any, but when one does arrive I can't wait to open it. It may be a long letter or nothing more than a postcard but it is always the first thing I open and the first thing I read. 

Do I get fewer letters today than in the past? No. I get them on paper and on my computer and via text message on my phone but rarely are they handwritten. The other day we got our first official handwritten letter from our seven-year old grandson, Noah. 

Here is what he wrote, just like he wrote it: 

CHARDLGS (Cardinals) 

I have tried here to type out as closely as I could his actual words. I wish you could see the actual paper with solid and dotted lines. I probably don't have to tell you how much that letter with its poor spelling and poor grammar and poor penmanship meant to "Grammy and Poppy." His effort to put his little thoughts in writing will be one of our treasured keepsakes. 

It won't be long until he will be texting or emailing us, but for now we love to read the results of his little hand taking a pencil and between the solid and dotted lines, writing out words that come to his mind. 

Evidence of handwriting goes back in antiquity about as far as there is evidence of human life. About 6,000 years ago the Sumerians wrote on clay tablets using an instrument called a stylus. But the Sumerians were not the only ancient civilizations which wrote. We have evidence of the Phoenicians, Chinese, Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and many others who expressed themselves in writing with a variety of materials from leather to parchment made from the reeds found along the Nile River. 

According to Anne Trubek in Handwriting is History (2010), "In the American colonies, a 'good hand' became a sign of class and intelligence as well as moral righteousness." Of course, the printing press altered the need to write words by hand. And all of the technology available to us today makes handwriting even less necessary. 

In spite of all of these wonderful tools that modernity has provided, my pen in my hand still thinks better than my fingers on a keyboard. I am actually writing these actual words on a yellow notepad with a "Uni-ball vision elite" pen with black ink. I still love writing personal notes with my pen. I still write out all my public presentations (formal or informal) by hand. I even pray with my pen in hand.

When I write I hold my pen in my right hand between my thumb, my index finger and my middle finger. In fact, I have used the pen for so many years that there is a permanent callous on the inside of my middle finger. 

For those who write personal notes to me, I am always grateful. Thank you, Helen Kopp from Lancaster for your creative poems and insightful reflections which you send me from time to time on your homemade stationery with your beautiful photography. Thank you, Betty Weber from Phoenixville for your gracious letters in which you reflect on one or more of my weekly columns. Your handwriting reflects genuine personal discipline, broad vocabulary and deep insight. Helen and Betty, I have kept every one of them. 

The power of the pen. Is it waning? Perhaps. Does it mean we are communicating less? No. Do I appreciate it, though, when someone uses it to send me a communiqué? Absolutely. Will I keep using it? For sure. 

Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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