See you in hell, cursive writing

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Posted on September 20, 2022 Posted by John Scalzi

John Scalzi

The former Harvard president wrote an elegy for cursive writing in Atlantic, noting that children these days have not learned it (it escaped national curriculum standards in the 2010s), do not read it easily, if at all, and wonders what this means for their ability to access the past, because many documents are handwritten, and many of them are in cursive. Future generations will see cursive as a curiosity at best and an almost foreign language at most.

Who, eh. I’m not too worried about it. For those who want to know, it’s not really this difficult to pick up; they taught it to sophomores, after all, a group of humans not well known for their intellectual prowess or their magnificent hand-eye coordination. That, coupled with the fact that computers are pretty good these days at recognizing handwriting of varying levels of atrocity and turning it into readable characters, suggests to me that the past won’t be so impenetrable for future scholars and d others who are interested in history. The stock market should survive very well.

Anyway, the writing was on the wall (so to speak) for cursive a long time ago. I’m 53, learned cursive in school, and haven’t used the skill for anything useful or important in decades. I started writing seriously around the time the first Macintoshes came out, so my entire creative/professional writing career and mental discipline for writing has centered around the computer as a writing tool. . At no time, except for the occasional poem or song, did I write creatively by hand. On occasions when I write by hand, such as when I sign books, it’s in standard, non-cursive script, consistent with my preference since I was a child, and slightly more readable for me and others in everything case. Once I was not ordered to write in cursive (coinciding with the end of my primary studies), I did not, and anyone who receives handwritten notes from me should be grateful.

(Which isn’t to say that I didn’t handwrite once in a while; in high school, I developed my own personal script that I used to take notes or comments on. People who see it now suggest it vaguely resembles Tolkien’s script, which I assume it does, but that was unintentional, as it predates me seeing Tolkien’s script I’m pretty sure since I’m fourteen, I’ve written more in my secret script than in cursive.)

I know people who write in cursive for fun – my friend and fellow writer Mary Robinette Kowal likes to send people handwritten notes, and I can attest that those notes are delightful to receive – but I suspect that most people in the Generation X conduct the majority of their written communication electronically or, at the very least, typed. Personally, I don’t notice a decrease in personal feeling or intimacy as these are the formats that current generations prefer. They will indeed present a challenge to future archivists, in the sense that electronic media is ephemeral and bit rot is a reality; I suppose it will be an equal or greater task for these archivists than cursive reading.

So here is. I will not regret too much the end of cursive as living writing. It was never really a part of my life outside of elementary school and was of limited use even then. I’ll stick to keyboards and computers, and limit handwriting to book signing and the occasional check-in (speaking of things that quickly become outdated). It has worked for me so far. I suspect this will continue.

—JS


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