How's your penmanship these days? With the development of more affordable and
sophisticated writing gadgets, American Educator magazine
notes, "It seems the death of handwriting
draws closer every year." According to the article, dozens of studies have found that handwriting instruction improves writing — in terms of not only its legibility but also its quality and quantity.
In honor of National Handwriting Day this week, enjoy this classic essay by Lance Morrow that ran in Time magazine in 1986. He imagines the Toad character from The Wind in the Willows giving up pen and pencil for a typewriter, and then ditching that machine in favor of a word processor. One day, Toad decides to pick up the handwriting habit again and "finds himself seduced, in love, scribbling away in the transports of a new passion."
So why not celebrate handwriting by scribbling a postcard or letter to a friend or relative, who will value it more than an e-mail or text message? That's what I'm going to do right now…
My family has enjoyed chiming in on the Slow Media critique. For example, my aunt gave me this amusing coffee mug that serves as reminder of how much she loves texting.
This year's Christmas dinner provided a rich opportunity to talk Slow Media with my relatives. My dad, who's 85, just "got on e-mail" (again). Or so he claims… He has called me on the telephone to confirm receiving my e-mail messages but I have not actually received an e-mail from him yet. This is maybe the third time in a dozen years that he's set up an e-mail account, never used it, then canceled it. He retired (from the phone company) 20 years ago, before PCs were ubiquitous, so he's never really taken to the gooey interfaces, yet alone the series of tubes.
My brother, who at age 35 is a tech-savvy engineer, just "got on Facebook" a couple of months ago… but only because colleagues bribed or blackmailed him into it with some sort of Secret Santa shenanigans. He's already become disenchanted with the superficiality of online social networking and threatening to quit. It bothers him that on Facebook some "friends" do not treat him like, you know, friends. He says he plans to keep in touch with important people
in his life "in more meaningful ways."
Then my cousin, who's also 35 and works in finance, brought up the topic of exploitative text pricing. Consumer Reports has been running a campaign against the rising cost of text messages. Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine, says that cellphone companies keep raising per-text costs for customers without SMS plans, even though the actual cost to the companies of sending these short messages is negligible.
He sent me links to some Popular Mechanics articles that explain how texting now costs $749 per megabyte–more than four times what NASA pays to transmit data from the Hubble telescope back to Earth. The magazine also gives these useful tips for e-mailing text messages from your smartphone to obviate the extra charges. Of course, we could just give in and sign up for unlimited monthly packages. But, should we have to?
Now I'm thinking that technology resistance might run in my family.
Somehow, people have gotten the idea that I hate digital media. I'm not exactly sure how this happened. Maybe it's because I write a blog about digital disenchantment. Maybe it's because I teach a class questioning the inflated role of communication technologies in our culture. Maybe it's because they heard my interview with Sally Herships on NPR about how I'm fostering a movement that encourages people to re-value offline media and get disconnected more.
For the record: I think the Internet is pretty neat. I remember the moment a few years ago when I looked at Google Earth for the first time, and felt dizzy. I just had fun launching a new website-slash-business-card. I did a video chat via Skype with my boyfriend the other night, and it was way cool. I'm even into online shopping, and e-banking, and streaming videos from Netflix and Hulu and YouTube, and all that jive.
Plus, I'm sort of addicted to this blog of mine. I have good discipline
and a busy life, so I spend most of my time doing things offline. But
if I were getting paid (conditional contrary to fact) to write about
Slow Media, I would totally love doing this every day.
Especially since one of my dearest friends just sold everything she owned and moved to Paris, I realize that we're lucky to have digital technology now for staying in contact. I lived in the south of France for a while in the 1980s and was really lonely, being completely out of touch with all my friends and family for long stretches. I also lived in Beijing for a while in the 1990s, and although there was an Internet, it was really slow (especially in China at that time) and phone calls back to the States cost $3… per minute. Living abroad must be easier now with e-mail, Skype, blogs, online photo sharing, iPhones, etc.
So don't think I'm hating on new communication technologies. They're super! I just think it's healthy to disconnect once in a while, to keep a good online-offline balance, and to be conscientious about the burdens that accompany these blessings and the analog losses entailed by digital gains.
It's always heartening for a teacher when students start applying class lessons to their lives — even after the semester is over. One of my fall students just sent me a message including this cartoon (above). I'm thrilled that even though grades and extra-credit points are no longer at stake, she still looks out for indicators of the changing role of communication technology in our culture. That's a great gift.