Bad news: Handwriting may soon become a thing of past

People may soon forget how to write.

The days of using pen and paper may be numbered and the traditional way of jotting down a hand-written note appears to be becoming redundant, a new study has suggested.

In a world where we increasingly tap out our thoughts, messages and reminders on a keyboard or a touchscreen phone, writing notes by hand is decreasing at a faster pace, with a typical adult not having written anything for almost six weeks, the study said.

The research, commissioned by online stationer Docmail, revealed that the average time since an adult last wrote by hand was 41 days. But it also found that one in three of us has not had cause to write anything ‘properly’ for more than six months.


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Two thirds of the 2,000 respondents said that if they do write by hand, it’s usually something for their eyes only with hastily scribbled reminders or notes most common.

More than 50 per cent of those polled admitted their handwriting had noticeably declined, with one in seven declaring they were ‘ashamed’ of their written word.

And four in 10 said they relied on predictive text for spelling, with one in four regularly using abbreviations or ‘text talk’, it said, concluding that perhaps the next generation will be almost entirely keyboard-dependent, the report said.

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Gone are the days of handwritten phone-books, writing reminders or noting something on the calendar, with technology now making these practices redundant for most of us.

Dave Broadway, managing director for Docmail, said: “It’s a shame handwriting is in general decline, but that’s come about from the need for convenience and communication that is clear and quick.

“People by habit will always look for shortcuts or to make their life easier, and that’s the reason technology is so prominent in our everyday lives.

“Handwriting will always carry a sentimental value but inevitably makes way when it comes to the need to be efficient,” he added.

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The decline in handwriting quality was blamed mostly on the lack of a place for it in the average modern life, with the need to be able to reach many people and constantly edit documents quickly crucial, it said.

About 40% of people claim that when they do have to write it never needs to be neat, so they stop trying.

And one in three said they used to have smart handwriting but that today their style is much scruffier- the same number would get someone else to write for them if it had to be smart and presentable, the study suggested.

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This clearly sounds like bad news unless we read another report.

Some psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Child's handwriting

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

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“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

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By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.