Junior is at sleepover camp and you are tracking his activities: a trickle of thumb written texts, a handful of acronyms and emoticons. Do you ever feel nostalgic, remembering handwritten letters from yesteryear? Or, like many, do you consider handwriting obsolete, preferring a clean, sharp font to Junior's illegible scrawl?
Some think that when we gain new handheld technologies, nothing is lost. I'm not so sure.
Many experts claim that the process involved in acquiring a fluent cursive handwriting is something like Pilates for the brain. According to handwriting expert Beryl Gilbertson, handwriting production uses at least 80 per cent of the cerebral cortex and almost all of the deeper structures. If the act of handwriting engages a range of cognitive processes and underlying mechanisms; it means that the child who laboriously shapes the curves and lines of every "p" and "d" is getting a brain workout, well beyond the one we get when we perform a static, repetitive movement like keyboarding. Compare mastering the violin with playing the triangle. They are both expressive activities but one is that much more complex.
And then there is the function of handwriting as a form of expression. Do you remember being 13 or 15 years old and signing your name, again and again, on the back cover of your notebook, mastering the insignia which would ultimately be yours? As it turns out, clinicians in Israel and in Europe have been analyzing handwriting for decades now, systematically deciphering personality from chicken scratch. If personality is somehow encoded in handwriting, can we not assume that the act of handwriting, much like drawing or singing, promotes self-expression and is psychologically useful?
As a clinician who analyzes handwriting within the context of psychotherapy, people routinely ask me whether handwriting can be analyzed now that some writers, so acclimated to computers, have a script that is rough and unpracticed. I tell them that if handwriting goes the way of the dodo bird, I will still have a day job.
Trained clinicians can analyze virtually anything -- simple drawings, made-up stories or even memories from childhood. The greater concern, then, are the implications for a generation who have been unmoored from one of the 3R's. Most handwriting experts suggest that mastering penmanship facilitates a shift, moving children out of right brain processing, associated with imagination and emotion, into the detail-oriented, left brain processing that we know as analytical thinking.
Flickering colorful screens are everywhere, seducing us all to right brain processing. Surely children, now, more than ever, need to master the written alphabet, to engage a sluggish left brain that so easily lags, developmentally speaking.
What does your handwriting reveal? A lot. It reveals unique facets of your personality, but more importantly, if you are of a certain age, its trace attests to the care and sustained efforts of those who taught you how to write. Though you may not give that fluency a second thought, I argue that you continue to accrue benefits from it to this day, an advantage that will likely be denied to many, moving into the future.