The demise of (neat) handwriting


Has lockdown begun the inevitable death of the written word. Will online classes pave way for complete digitization of education. The first assault on writing began 15 years back with the smartphone and Blackberries. It got reinforced with India becoming the largest consumer of smartphones. Now we have people saying that online classes are here to stay.

How it all began

Researchers agree that handwriting began independently at four ancient civilizations, Mesopotamia which is present day Iraq, Egypt, China and Mexico. Thereafter it flourished in China and Egypt. The first script was a cuneiform script created around 3200 BC which is more than 5000 years ago! Yes, handwriting is very old. 

Necessity of handwriting for ancient people

Handwriting is an easy way to record information. It is better than the spoken word. If a story has to be narrated by voice, it has variations. So scholars came up with poems and ballads. But a written text will last forever and will never get altered. Writing is a way to preserve history and share knowledge.

To relay information, kings or noblemen used the services of a messenger. One such messenger in Mesopotamia could not memorize a message. So the king picked up a piece of clay and scribbled the message in the form of symbols and writing. Thus began the history of the written world. Writing on clay tablets went on for years till paper was invented 2000 years ago. Clay writing was mostly symbols using styluses while paper gave rise to a variety of writing instruments and also the invention of alphabets.

Religious texts, historical data, government records and literature, all were recorded in handwriting. Thus began the quest of the art of neat handwriting. There were very few scholars around and an equally lesser number of writers. They had to spend hours and hours of consistently writing neatly. This is how calligraphy began.

The printing press comes…

When a goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440 in Germany, he did not realize that he was setting up in motion a chain of events. Calligraphy got replaced with typography and all of a sudden hand written texts started becoming history. Digital revolution is the next step. It has changed the course of written words and how the word is spread.

Today an engineering graduate writes the last exam paper with a pen. Then after joining a company like Infosys or Microsoft, he/she will not see a piece of paper anywhere in the office. Universities like Amity offer online MBA courses where right from admission to the course content and the final exams are all online. 

A digital revolution has begun but will take years to complete

The typed word and voice notes have just begun to dominate our lives in the past few years. The lockdown demonstrated that there is an alternative to physically going to school. Today online classes are all about the teacher facing the students via video conferencing apps. But just like the online MBA course will any school resort to digitization of school curriculum. If that happens, in one sweep, all notebooks and pens will disappear.

Many govts have brought in online services so those grand old govt forms have gone for good. Next reform will be in education.

Handwriting will exist in one form or the other in all parts of the world. It will also remain a form of communication. Calligraphy is said to be the art of neat handwriting. As an art form it will exist as it has been for so many hundreds of years. Neat handwriting however has an uncertain future. 

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