Tuesday 9 October 2012

Handwriting and thinking: on the way out together?

When I was a boy, people still let it be known that there had been a death in the family by keeping their curtains closed all day.

Last week, for the first time, I spotted someone announcing his mother’s death on Facebook. This is one “status update” it is clearly a breach of etiquette to “like”, despite the website’s inbuilt encouragement to be the first to do so.

At least this made me realise how very old fashioned I was to agonise for ages about whether I might compose a letter of condolence to a friend on my computer, rather than with pen and ink.

I do most things electronically these days. Where I would once have written a letter of thanks, I now invariably send an e-mail. But I had always drawn the line at expressing sympathy in print.

Partly lest it be thought that I had just cut and pasted my condolences from some previous missive, and partly because it seems rather insulting to address such an important issue in trouble-free laser print rather than painfully neat handwriting.

Pain, sadly, being the operative word. Years of abuse, scribbling rapid notes at meetings, have rendered my once award-winning italic script all but illegible, no matter how hard I work at it. I started sending out Christmas cards with a printed name and address after several people complained that even my signature had become such a scrawl that they had wasted valuable time puzzling over who the card was from.

So I gave in and sent a printed letter that was, I consoled myself, at least several times better than one of those ghastly printed “With Sympathy” cards.

Buy in bulk: there is sure to be another flu epidemic this winter

And a week or so later I was relieved to receive, by e-mail, a message from my friend thanking me for my “perfect” letter, so an unfortunate precedent has now been set.

Handwriting used to be such an important test of character. Many a promising relationship rapidly petered out when I discovered that a potential girlfriend was in the habit of adorning her vowels with hearts or smiles.

How will my sons manage without this quick and easy litmus test for lunacy at their disposal?

This is not to imply for a second that the so-called “science” of graphology is anything other than total bosh. I can state this with confidence because, a few years ago, a client submitted a sample of my own handwriting for such a test, and shared the results with me.

Apparently I am hugely talented and immensely ambitious, with the energy of ten normal men. Anyone who has read one of these columns, let alone actually met me, will know instantaneously that this is the absolute reverse of the truth.

Not only am I monumentally lazy, my attention span has also now atrophied to the point where I felt hugely proud of myself on Saturday when, for the first time in months, I actually sat down and read a whole book.

True, it was a rather short book written by someone I know, and based on a premise so outrageously untrue that I simply had read it.

Even so, where I would once have been literally unable to put it down, I felt obliged to take regular breaks to check the latest developments on my e-mail, Twitter and Facebook.

We are all becoming infantilised by this never-ending stream of news and the instantaneous, crude and usually cynical reactions to it. It now requires a real effort of will to pause, concentrate and really think about an issue before we pronounce on it.

Sadly precious few of our political leaders seem capable of doing so.

Perhaps it would be helpful to them and us if, every now and then, we pulled the plug on the constant storm of electronic chaff; turned our mobiles and computers off, and our minds on. Maybe we could draw the curtains, too, to minimise the distractions from outside.

After all, why should we wait for a death in the family to prompt us to reflect on what really matters? 

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...

Well done!!
And I share your deepest sympathies.