When Technology Fails, You Need a Pen


This week, I found myself in a debate with some more experienced colleagues. We all waxed nostalgic for the days of neat handwriting, which they once taught in school and we all once learned in school. There were arguments for handwriting practice’s therapeutic effects on students and arguments that there’s a right way and a wrong way to form a letter.
I was alone in my insistence that the need for neat handwriting is becoming an obsolete notion given the ubiquity of computer and mobile technology. More and more, written communication occurs via the keyboard than the pencil.
I can envision a world in the future where handwriting is as necessary to humans as a pay phone is now. In my lifetime, so many tasks that could only be accomplished with a pen can now be accomplished faster and for less using modern technology. My paycheck is deposited electronically and I get an e-mail saying so. I can transfer money with a click of the mouse and can pay bills in the same way. I don’t need to buy a stamp and mail a letter because I can accomplish the same effect with e-mails. The list goes on.
Here’s the thing, though. The argument for handwriting that I found most legitimate is this: What happens when technology fails?
My immediate response was we are getting to a place where that’s becoming less and less likely.
And just because I made such a flippant and naive comment, the handwriting gods decided to conspire against me this morning when I turned on my laptop to type this blog: the damn thing is essentially dead. I got two fatal errors and now it seems it is time to invest in a new computer.
Now, I had technological backup, and I typed this blog on my iPad, but I think the point was obvious, anyway. What happens if technology fails in the future and someone has to write a paper check, mail a paper letter, or fill out a bank deposit slip?
It seems highly unlikely that we would ever find ourselves without technology for an extended period of time, and if we did, I don’t think poor handwriting would spell our civilization’s doom. But when a cell phone fails, you need a pay phone. Perhaps when a keyboard fails, you need a pen.
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6 responses to “When Technology Fails, You Need a Pen

  1. I teach and also stress handwriting. But for me as a child, handwriting was excruciating. I had the heart of a writer, even then, but the physical act was incredibly difficult. I still need to focus with cursive because if I’m not careful my hand goes places I don’t want it to. Having had an alternative way to write then would have allowed me to get the thoughts in my head onto paper.

  2. I have terrible handwriting, but I don’t think I could get through a day without using a fountain pen. I find that the writing I do with a pen is substantially different than what I do on the keyboard – something about slowing down, the physical look of the writing, and the extra editing that goes on when it is typed into the computer.

  3. I personally, LOVE seeing a person’s handwriting. It’s like another art form to me.

  4. You know, I was thinking more about your post. I was watching Les Miserables (on tv) last night and it struck me how we have not come very far from the kind of living conditions people were struggling against in the 19th century. In the context of the rest of the world who make our technology but can’t afford any of it themselves, never mind have a laptop and backup ipad, the pen is doing just fine. Technology doesnt mean the same thing to you as it does worldwide. And this made me thinks of one of my students from Bangladesh who spends every free minute in my class writing in Bangla, which looks absolutely beautiful in her handwriting. She can’t do that on a keyboard. Never mind the fact that our keyboards are all English letters. My chinese kids can only type in their language if they use a romanized version (pin yin) and use google translate it to characters or use the mouse on a site that lets you draw the characters. So, maybe from the English-speaking first world POV, we can consider the demise of handwriting, but once you look around the world you see less evidence for the argument. I mean, can you go to a favela and find cell phones and Internet cafes? Sure. But most people don’t have access like certain Americans do. And as long as the world’s insane lopsidedness continues to increase, handwriting and penmanship will still matter. Even my pen-pal in Japan, who isn’t living in poverty, a letter is the only way to get in touch with her because she rarely emails.

  5. In this age of technology I’ve found pen and paper to work exceptionally well for Thank You notes. Trained (pestered) at an early age to write thank you notes, I haven’t lost the habit and will write a thank you for many acts of kindness, generosity, and extra effort. A handwritten note, from my perspective, offers the receiver much more than an e-mail or e-card thank you. The value of the handwritten note is described quite eloquently in John Kralik’s “A Simple Act of Gratitude.”

  6. Interesting story about the use of handwriting in today’s world. When I taught 3rd and 4th graders just a few years ago, I still “taught” cursive handwriting, but was not as strict with the actual formation of letters as days gone by I guess. And, I didn’t really care of students chose to print or write in cursive. To me, it wasn’t about all writing the same way, it was more about learning to write just enough to be able to read it. :) I, too, love technology and actually work in the field now training teachers, but there is no substitution for knowing how to actually write a check, or use a pay phone. You really just never know when one will be needed!

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