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Opinion

Digital media and the death of cursive

You probably don’t know who Bobby Hogg is. I didn’t either until last week when I read that he had died.

He was no famous athlete, musician, or movie star, but only a 92-year-old man living in a small fishing village in Scotland. He was last speaker of the local fisherman’s dialect, and along with him died 600 years of spoken language.

As I write this column I see another form of communication being wiped out: cursive.

Yeah, those little squiggles and curlicues that you learned in third or fourth grade. After you were taught cursive you probably abandoned the format and went on writing in manuscript like any other elementary school kid.

Around the same time you were probably taught how to type on a keyboard. You most likely typed on a computer program that kept track of your words-per-minute and taught you the home-row keys. As a child, the computer was probably a more alluring way to learn than a handwriting book where you traced all those funny looking letters, like the  ‘Q’ or ‘G’ (which I still can’t form correctly).

The current trend in elementary schools is to emphasize computer skills, such as typing, over more traditional forms of communication like cursive. Most schools are scaling back their efforts to teach cursive, and the state of Indiana decided last year that their schools would teach it only if they wanted to.

While I think everyone needs to be able to type on a keyboard, I also think that every adult in this country should be able to sign more than just his/her own signature in cursive.

Sure, nobody turns in hand-written papers anymore, but nobody gets to print his or her name on a check either. As I researched the decline of cursive, I came upon various descriptions of how kids in eighth grade couldn’t write their own signature because they didn’t know how, or how seniors graduating from high school were writing all of their “Thank-you” letters in manuscript.

Some may see this as a sign of the times. Everything is digital, and almost nothing is hand written. We don’t even handwrite our letters anymore because of email. You might assume that you could get by with just knowing your own signature and nothing else, but I don’t buy this.

Learning cursive is akin to learning a foreign language, which is emphasized more and more in school curriculums, and it facilitates learning beyond just knowing how to read and write.

One thing that cursive teaches is patience, which our digital age is in extremely short supply of. It takes time to learn the curves and squiggles of the alphabet, just as it takes time and effort to learn the conjugations of another language. Without patience, learning of any kind is bound to be extremely shallow.

Now this is subject to debate, but I also think writing in cursive is faster than manuscript. It logically follows that the faster you write, the better you track your thoughts and form arguments. The faster you write what’s in your head, the better you align your thoughts.

Also, when one writes in cursive, connectivity is necessary. By stressing connectivity, cursive shows us that words, sentences, and thoughts must also be connected.

The fluidity necessary for writing cursive consequently helps a writer to think more fluently and completely. Although we’re all in college and think that we can do this, just take a minute and look at your friends’ posts on Twitter or Facebook. It’s embarrassing. Some people still cannot form complete sentences.

As a practitioner of this dying form of writing, I feel it’s my duty never to stop using it. I’ve been ostracized, but I think it’s the most rewarding style of writing. I also think it looks more professional than manuscript because I can’t help but thinking I’m back in middle school when I see someone’s notebook jotted with colorful little letters.

It is my hope that 80 years from now I am not the Bobby Hogg of cursive writing. Our posterity should not be doomed to a fate of entirely digitalized media. If this form is forgotten, I only see it as another death stroke toward creativity and individuality in the 21st century.

I’ll put it this way: Our Bill of Rights and The Declaration of Independence were both penned in cursive, how sad would it be if one day our sons or granddaughters were not capable of reading them?

Quinn Scahill is a senior English major. His columns appear Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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About Quinn Scahill

Quinn Scahill is a senior Creative writing major at Colorado State University. His columns appear on Fridays.