Lost in Handwriting?

The name Fay Miller Anderson is written in cursive on the inside cover of this small book of Gregg shorthand. The 5th grade English teacher at my school was kind enough to bring me a stack of books she recovered from a thrift store for me to use as collage elements in student art projects. Several of the books are too specia to tear up including this one on shorthand. I recently heard an episode of the Freakonomics podcast  titled Who Needs Handwriting? The episode delves into the divide between the limitations of the speed and skill of our own marks and the limited sensory experience technoshorthandlogy provides. Some are convinced that handwriting is an outdated skill soon to be obsolete, while others feel that writing words by hand creates a unique cognitive experience. Toward the end of the episode Stephen Dubner interviews journalist Dennis Hollier who takes notes in shorthand writing 115-120 words a minute, much faster than I am typing this post now. I didn’t have a visual image for shorthand while listening to the interview, but the marks in this book are really interesting. The unfamiliar scribbles look closer to cursive. I’m fascinated with the idea that whatever method we use to externalize words; typing, writing in short-hand or longhand, or drawing images, is an act of translation. Are the words we write directly correlated to the internal thoughts they represent? And how does the method and means of expression affect their creation and meaning?

I love the feeling of writing. My handwriting changes if I’m making an organized to do list or wildly brainstorming ideas. I think it matters if our words are typed or written. I teach several students with dysgraphia. My Grandmother, a long time first grade teacher, would probably have said they have poor penmanship. We now think of dysgraphia as a sign there are some pathways that aren’t functioning properly. It’s a symptom of a problem. There is something about our handwriting that provides a window into our brains. Is it a window into translation? or expression?


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