Friday, March 19, 2010

Penmanship and Lasting Information

The other day my son sent me a very funny e-mail with about 275,000 photo attachments that offered a way to explain sex to children in terms of various numbers, colors, and arrangements of colored ink pens. I thought it was funny enough to forward to many of my friends and co-workers, and that - of course - led to a day of e-mail exchanges that led from pens to sex to ... who'd a thunk it? - penmanship.

Gwen commented: "Someone was entirely too bored. When they have the pens showing the different positions in the Kama Sutra, THEN I'll be impressed."

To which Jeff replied: "Gonna need some of those flexi-straw type pens for that."

And Eminence Grise responded: "And all along I thought this was about penmanship!" (He was a little slow that morning).

Gwen shot back: "Why do you think they teach that in elementary school? But the older people get, the more sloppy hand-writing seems to get. I think it's probably the best, though, in college when you're having to take notes all the time & need to study for a test and dammit when you leak ink all over the place or run out of pens. But when you graduate and are working all the time, the last thing you want to worry about is penmanship. At least that's what I've seen."

And Eminence Grise finally got to the point toward which I'm going with this story: "I'm afraid in the next generation they will skip penmanship and go straight to texting. Which will fine until an EMP event wipes out all human capability to record events and knowledge and we go straight back to the stone age. The only thing standing between us and barbarism is penmanship."

"The only thing standing between us and barbarism is penmanship."

Now, that may be a bit of a stretch, but - as always - EG makes a good point.

I'm more concerned with the diminishing ability to spell and express ideas in proper and grammatical English than with the decline in penmanship. Most people I know (particularly men) have awful penmanship, a phenomenon caused (at least in part) by the rise of computers and keyboards and wireless communication by e-mail, Tweet, and other media not requiring pens and ink.

But what happens when EG's EMP event (that's electromagnetic pulse, for those of you unfamiliar with the term) fries all the electronics? Where does our information go when all the world's PCs and Macs and hard drives and memory sticks and Blackberries and smart phones all turn into so many paperweights?

We can still go to libraries and read books that are many hundreds of years old, yet perfectly legible. The ink may be faded on the page, but the information can still be recovered without the need of a device that has to be plugged in and turned on. After the EMP event, all the information stored in electronic media is utterly gone...turned into random electrons.

It's one thing to have a hard time interpreting lousy's quite another to be completely unable to recover the information. Everyone who has ever suffered through a hard drive crash (and if you're reading this, you probably have suffered such an event) knows all about that.


Let's not write off pen and ink on paper (so to speak). E-mails and tweets are okay, but transient. Books and letters live on.

Now would be a good time to sit down and write a snail-mail letter to good old Bilbo...Mike.

Have a good day. Write something...preferably something legible.

Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - be here.



Mike said...

I still have your letter sitting right by my computer. It's right next to the post card I got for you in Prague.

Wv: spirkst - What I'm waiting for to get me going. Just a little spirkst and off I go. Did I spel that write?

Bandit said...

My HS English teacher had us take a handwriting course through Zaner-Bloser. We literally learned to draw the letters that appeared above your school room chalkboard. I'm still pretty good at it.

Also, Pope Gregory I (590-604) had monks come up with a way to preserve music. This developed into the modern day musical notation system.