The looming extinction event

2010-08-23 Time Tunnel
(Photo credit: Degilbo on flickr)

During my temporal experiments I managed to forge a small hole in time and space using a machine of my design that forged a spatial vortex using black hole dynamics. Reaching through the hole, I managed to grab a sheet of light green torn out spiral-bound notebook paper, which had been folded up pocket-sized. Presumably it was from one of the steno pads we use to make notes at work; unfolding it, I found that it was covered with my own flowing cursive, which I found both encouraging and oddly disappointing at the same time. I’ve reproduced it here, since I won’t be able to do so after writing it; after all, it is dated three years in the future, and its title comes straight from a list of article topics which I have mentioned before:

F. September 23, 2016 – The looming extinction event

Portable Typewriters
Portable Typewriters (Photo credit: alexkerhead)

Over time we tend to retire things that no longer have any use to us in the context of our lives, and the universal items which once bound us to our pursuits soon fall by the wayside; those of us old enough to remember typewriters may now find it a challenge to say where and when was the last time we saw one? They may still exist in vintage secondhand shops and they may still work marvelously, but who would really find one useful anymore? The conundrum is that they look nice, they feel and sound good, but the utility is gone beyond niche crafts and letter-writing, because nobody wants typewritten anymore; a typewritten memo will at the very least get you funny looks, if not talked about behind hands at the office. Forget about publishing anything hot off the typewriter – no editor wants a typewritten manuscript on their desk anymore. Functionally, the typewriter has gone extinct, along with marvelous gadgetry such as the crank-powered egg beater. Something better and more convenient has displaced it, and so slowly these contraptions fade from our lives, only to become relics of a bygone age. In that light it is unsurprising that we now view an extinction event unfolding before our very eyes, only what we are losing will not be relegated to the secondhand stores; it will melt away entirely.

iPhone 2g, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4
(Photo credit: reticulating)

Over the past decade, technology has made marvelous strides in providing a universal convenience of producing the written word. I can attest to that, since when I was a kid the only widely accessible device for producing print was the aforementioned typewriter, and so I knew kids that wrote, and those that avoided writing at all costs. But since the advent of the smartphone and texting, technology and software have innovated to bring writing to the masses, since communication via text proved to be, for everyone, very convenient, inexpensive, and fast: the trifecta of marketing that spells doom for our subject. Coupled to text communication we have Internet access, which enables better and more flexible styles of communication; so rather than re-inventing the cellular paradigm from the ground up, they tied our phones to the Internet, putting little computers in our pocket. My iPhone 7C is actually magnitudes more powerful than the computer I had ten years ago. But that one’s an old story.

So now, everyone is writing more than they ever were. That’s our primary mode of communication. As a writer I don’t know whether to feel elated or threatened by such a paradigm shift, but overall I tend to feel like the entire world is getting smarter for it. After all, if people are writing more, then they’re reading more, even if they’re not reading as much at a time, that’s still a huge boost in reading across the board. Writing gets easier by the year because the technologies that facilitate it are advancing rapidly. Remember when speech-to-text was too clunky to be bothered with it? I used to try to dictate blog posts into the first iPhone I had and it would actually take longer to do it that way because I had to correct 60% of what ended up on the screen; sometimes I even had to guess what I had originally said because I had already forgotten! In just a few years this mode of writing has gotten so good that I may have to correct a few words out of a hundred, and writing blog posts has never gone much faster. To be honest, I still write them out only because I’m not allowed to have my phone out at work, so I simply dictate these posts into my phone.

(Photo credit: chrischapman)

So my handwriting is pretty good. How does yours fare? I ask because recent studies (Smithsonian link) show that handwriting skill is slipping all over the industrialized world. Some experts posit the idea (New Yorker link) that within a few generations pens and pencils will, by and large, join the aging ranks of typewriters in the vintage journalism shadowbox of time. Technological advents of the recent past such as digital whiteboards and notebooks are beginning to effectively wipe out our vestigial needs for penmanship. The soul quails at the thought that either my children or my grandchildren may be among the first generations to go without writing by hand. Could it be so? Either way, we have been witness to a quiet extinction that has mostly completed.

The Internet is littered with articles on how to prevent or remove the once-common writing callus; I don’t know about you, dear reader, but mine – the one on the middle finger of my right hand, on the left side of the furthest joint of the finger – has faded away. I just discovered this during a mammoth writing session after being left alone for most of the weekend and in the second hour of writing I found that I had a red divot in the side of my finger. Where did that callus go that used to protect my finger as a child? That small button of leather-tough flesh was resorbed by my body and replaced by smooth, soft, shiny skin. I was a little sad to find that I wasn’t even cognizant enough of this process to even watch it as it happened, let alone mitigate the melting away of my toughest defense against the pain of my childhood schoolwork. Yet, it was encouraging that I discovered this while handwriting.

In the vicious flow of time, we might try but we cannot entirely save those things that are slowly slipping from our grasp; surely it may be so with handwriting as well. This is just the way things go, I’m sure; my long-gone and now-missed writing callus stands – or not – as a testament to the fading skill that we call handwriting, be it manuscript or cursive. But we can hold onto them as long as possible. We can’t get the world to adopt a throwback, something that is largely seen as inconvenient, time-consuming, or just plain barbaric (handwriting = barbaric? The nerve!) We can, however, appreciate the beauty that is being lost by the day. If you have the time and wish to take the effort, do try to write something by hand every day, even if it’s a note-to-self on a scrap of paper or a cocktail napkin; because it may be too soon that we realize that it has been years since we have written anything at all by hand.

So what about you, did you have a writing callus? Does it still exist, or has it melted away like mine?

At the end of the article was this note: “Dear Rob – sorry, no spoilers! – Rob”.

Looks like I still have my sense of humor, and perhaps my memory has gotten a little better. Now there’s a case for lengthy writing by hand.

This post was prompted by today’s Daily Post prompt.


Feel free to share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s