I had the good luck to speak to a high school class about their careers in media–you know, texting and video–and I managed to bore the living crap out of them within the first eighteen-and-a-half minutes.
To write in cursive, as the schools so elegantly call it, has always been the sign of an educated mind. Letters were once “penned” if they were written at all. There were once qulls and inkwells and then cartridge and Bics. Pencils were there if your jottings required erasure.
People wrote in journals–and some, like me, still do. I can even remember the excitement of seeing a beautiful Catholic girl’s unmistakeable penmanship in the mail.
The kids at Aspen High will do without all of that, and all that comes with longhanded thinking. Instead they will rely on printing out letters rather than connecting them, typing on a computer keyboard–and, of course, the thumby texting that is now our lingua franca.
Do not put a smiley face here.
Does it matter? Maybe not. Maybe the same notions will exist, however abbreviated. Maybe texting will spawn a New Intimacy worth cover stories. Maybe, for God’s sake, some nut will end up writing the Great American Novel on Facebook.
We don’t know what will happen, but I can certainly take a shot at what it means. On the most basic level, writing with a pen or pencil will go way slower in a new century where life has already accelerated past itself. Actual old-fashioned note-taking will become murderously slow and will be largely abandoned. A bloke like Virgin’s Richard Branson, who literally takes notes on every meeting in a schoolboy’s notebook, will seem like a quaint oddity from the Oulde Country.
There’s more, of course. Who among us, writer or not, has experienced the excitement of the pen trying to keep up with our thoughts as our longhand strokes engrave the page? By the time you try to print out the same train, your connection to the original thought will be a memory, and not a good one at that.
Finally there are the implications of the death of cursive for print itself. Without speed, without note-taking, the inevitable and inexorable decline of paper itself will continue, a not unwelcome predicament for a futurist like me. But as a writer who writes longhand every day, I can’t help but think that a final corner has been turned, a final black mark that means more than just the end of a sentence.