The End of Pens, Is handwriting worth saving?

By |  Slate - Posted Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 

Julia Turner, pen in hand.

Julia Turner, pen in hand. Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate.

 The answer is less obvious than you might think. Sure, you are familiar with your own scrawled to-do lists, or the brief missives you leave on the kitchen counter for houseguests or your spouse. Perhaps you take notes by hand in meetings (though if you’re like me you consult them only sporadically after the fact). But when was the last time you filled a page of foolscap—or Mead college rule, for those of us who’ve never been quite sure what foolscap is—with lines and lines of unbroken lettering, trying to express an argument or make a developed point? When was the last time you used pen and ink for writing, and not just for jotting?
The Missing Ink, from British novelist Philip Hensher, makes the case that it has probably been too long. Subtitled “The Lost Art of Handwriting,” the book is an ode to a dying form: part lament, part obituary, part sentimental rallying cry. In an age of texting and notes tapped straight into tablets, we are rapidly losing the art and skill it takes to swiftly write, with a pen, a sentence that is both intelligible and attractive. The time devoted to teaching handwriting in elementary schools around the globe has dwindled. Hensher opens his book with the plaintive question: “Should we even care? Should we accept that handwriting is a skill whose time has now passed? Or does it carry with it a value that can never truly be superseded by the typed word?”
Hensher has a dog in the fight. He makes reference throughout the text to various chapters that he has drafted in longhand—a process unfathomable to someone who is tapping out these lines in the Notes app on her iPhone at 4:58 in the morning. (That’s one advantage to our modern means of scrivening—you can do it at night in the dark without getting out of bed or waking your husband.) But Hensher is a man whose friends compliment him on his distinctive handwriting (and who reproduces perhaps a few more of these compliments in the book than is strictly necessary). Hensher is a man who composes on paper and has a preferred brand—and nib!—of fountain pen. In other words, he is quite unlike most modern humans.
Still, I share Hensher’s concern about the “lost art of handwriting.” When I examine my own crabbed scrawl, I’m struck by the idea that I can no longer be said to have any particular sort of handwriting, anymore. Here’s what it looks like, these days: