By Hand

This post was originally written in July 2021 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.

Then something changed: I stopped handwriting.

Why is that? (You may ask…) I went to university.

I had been using computers throughout my time at primary and high school, however this occurred when I was either in a computer lab or at home completing longer assignments. Everything in general class-time was otherwise written with a pen.

At university, no one instructed me to use a pen, so I was free to use my MacBook or iPad to take notes during lectures and annotate slides and PDFs. As I had already learnt to touch-type in primary school, it felt much faster and more natural to apply my ideas onto a digital page, while keeping up with a presenter or racing to meet a deadline for an essay. As much as I enjoy handwriting, the thrill of hitting keys quickly is fantastic. Sometimes it feels as smooth as thinking the thoughts themselves.

This trend continued as I entered the working world—a world full of computers. When in the office, I often see people writing notes by hand, whether on post-it notes or larger pads or notebooks during meetings. I never do this. All of my writing is on a keyboard and quite often, over time, I’ve attracted funny looks during meetings when I’ve entered without a pen and paper. Rather than take notes during meetings or even sit behind a laptop, I speak and listen, then summarise the key points from my head digitally afterwards.

One thing that has appealed to me about handwriting more again, however, is using my Apple Pencil. I bought it with the intention to write more by hand, but instead have used it mainly for audio editing in Ferrite Recording Studio, including Hemispheric Views. It’s an excellent experience.

Now that so much of my work and my thinking is typed and filed neatly, to write by hand seems disruptive, as if it will break the system or slow me down. It feels fun, but it’s never as efficient or orderly.

All of this being said, even in an age when so much of our time is dominated by computers, I believe that handwriting is still a crucial skill. It’s important (at least sometimes) to express yourself in a way that is slower, more focused and more tactile. Imagine a visual society, such as ours, that were to lose the ability to make the shapes of its own language on a page. It’s a frightening possibility.

When my son, Mac, gets a bit older and goes to school, I would like him to enjoy handwriting and see the value in it as well. The concern is, however, how will he ever develop such a skill if his parents (or at least one of them) isn’t doing it actively in front of him every day? Why would he pick up a pen and write slowly on paper, when he only ever sees his dad typing on a keyboard? Could he be one of those future humans who knows his language only through the tapping of a keyboard?

Somehow, with the very little time that I make for myself already, I’m going to have to find a way to bring more handwriting back into my life.