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Paeans to penmanship

Putting pen to paper to write New Year greetings to my beloved friend, I lingered on the saga of the small simple nib that shaped the very world we live in. I was particular to send the greetings in my handwriting, as I realise the value of the personal touch. It is, however, a thought for concern that for the first time in history, the future of the pen hangs in the balance.

The written elegance nowadays has been replaced with texting and typing. The digital age seems to have ruined our handwriting and made many of us neglect our penmanship. But it is paradoxical that the very same digital technology gives us some hope that handwriting is here to stay.

It is with utmost reverence that I remember the teacher who inspired me to work on my handwriting during my school days. Though he is no more, I feel connected to him as I write. I sat awestruck when he created magic with the tip of his pen. Gradually, I too got into the groove with the fountain pen and the feel is unique as the ink flows incessantly out of the nib.

An alphabet has a meaning that goes beyond the speech sounds it represents and also a beautiful philosophy behind it. It was the Spencerian script which I was first introduced to. The flourish of the pen stroke reveals stylistic conventions before my eyes. It is methodical and organised. I can feel sometimes that Platt Roger Spencer got to the bottom of the script emulating the beauty of nature, while designing it. It was as if he was inspired by the flowing streams, the gentle leaning of wheat blowing in the wind, the rolling clouds over the mountain peaks or the gentle curve at the tip of a flipping fish.

For me, the desire to write with a pen is something more than a desire to cling to the past. Handwriting identifies you as much as your physical features do. It is such a personal act and the conduit through which self-expression may flourish.

The digital age has pushed to the periphery the handwriting skills. Nowadays, most of our written communications are done through texting on mobile devices or typing on a keyboard. Even voice recognition software has evolved recently. School curriculum does not mandate assessing cursive handwriting. Often we come across youngsters who can’t sign their names or even read a handwritten note. Practising cursive writing at school is now considered a waste of time and something left to the teachers’ discretion.

But handwriting, including drawing and sketching, will not only stay but will actually see a renaissance. Paper may disappear in the course of time. But it does not mean that handwriting has to disappear with it, because touch screens may evolve to help us write well.

Speech can be considered a signal which is one dimensional, while handwriting, as an image, is two dimensional. It’s a natural extension of touch and once we have adopted touch, there is no reason not to adopt handwriting as well.

With handwriting recognition technology, machines are able to understand our handwriting today. Time is not so far when tablets will use sophisticated handwriting technology. It will emerge not because technology pushes us there, but because it’s more natural and intuitive. Such human-machine interfaces better fit human capabilities and shortcomings. They will free up creativity and enable us to do things more efficiently and with more fun.

meeravasundhati@gmail.com

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 3:01:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/paeans-to-penmanship/article33642557.ece

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