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Conversations About Handwriting

• Researchers at a U.S. university are working with the FBI to compile a database of donated handwriting samples to use in handwriting analysis programs.

It's being run through the English Department of West Virginia University, which is conducting two-hour "collection sessions" with volunteers.

From the university's website:

The goal is to compile an anonymous data set to be used by WVU and the FBI to study handwriting and the unique characteristics of writing styles. Handwriting can profile human behavior in the areas of social skills, thinking styles, work habits and the way persons deal with stress. Handwriting is a unique snapshot of an individual’s current state of mind, body and feelings.

Interestingly enough, while the English department is running the show, the contact person is from the school's Homeland Security program.

Volunteers get free pizza during the handwriting collection and a $50 gift card when they're finished.

That creepy feeling they'll get from being watched by Big Brother is just a bonus.

• The end of cursive handwriting can't come quickly enough for some people, it seems.

Columnist Lori Borgman took to the pages of the Kansas City Star recently to hasten the demise of communications written in flowing longhand. The end, she writes, is inevitable.

I know, I know, some of you are purists packing up your Montblanc fountain pens and the last remaining boxes of Crane stationery with talk about heading to the hills. Oh, you may be fine for a while, but you'll turn on each other eventually, arguing about whether to resurrect the Palmer Method and whether it is acceptable to make lefties lose their slant. Come to grips with it now - the days of cursive are over. Man does not live by longhand alone.

If you'd just think rationally for a moment, I think you will shake those BIC pens out of your satchel, relinquish your beloved uni-ball with the fat grip and agree to stay close to your keyboard.

In today's times, cursive is limiting. It slows us down, it gets in the way of expediency.

Case in point, you can't Facebook in cursive. You can't tweet. You can't even organize a flash mob in cursive. Well you could, but you'd need a day to address the invitations, three to five days to make sure they had arrived and two additional days because cursive holdouts are also the sort that also like to RSVP. You have now killed the spirit of the flash mob. Feeling badly about that, aren't you? Like a lowercase "m" drooping beneath the base line.

Why does it always have to be pen or keyboard? Why can't it just be both?

Of course, we could just assume that she wrote all that with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Yes, let's do that.

• A San Francisco artists' group decided to lend a hand last month to people who liked the idea of handwritten letters, but were too lazy to do it themselves.

According to the local NBC affiliate, the project was called Snail Mail My Email and allowed people to email notes of up to 100 words, which volunteers then turned into actual letters and mailed, postage paid.

The project was the idea of a man named Ivan Cash, and apparently was a success.

Since starting the project several weeks ago, Cash has enlisted 134 volunteers around the world who’ve mailed out more than 2,500 letters. In a living room in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, Cash and a group of friends sat in a circle transforming emails into handwritten notes.

There were love letters from husbands to wives; a poem from a father to a son – a letter from a woman to her grandmother letting her know her injured ribs had healed. One volunteer wrote-out a "Dear John" letter intended for an unfortunate recipient in Australia: “Dear Thomas,” it said. “I don’t think it’s working out. Sorry, I think it’s time we ended things.”

Cash smiled at the words, and said he hoped it was a joke.

“We’ve definitely gotten letters from parents to their infant children,” he said. “Saying ‘hey this might be the only snail mail you get.’”

Sweet, but kind of sad, too.

• Want to see something encouraging?

The Boston Globe recently ran an article about people from the tech generation who still enjoy sending handwritten missives, instead of just posting on Facebook and Twitter.

Writer Anna Marden interviewed several 20-somethings who make a regular practice of writing and sending letters – and of encouraging their friends and family to do the same.

Phoebe Sexton received so much mail on her 27th birthday, the postman couldn’t fit it in her mailbox. A 2006 graduate of Boston University, Sexton moved to Dallas just a few days before her birthday last year. But because she wasn’t with her friends to celebrate, she wanted the next best thing - for them to send gifts, cards, and letters through the Postal Service.

“I called it my mail-order birthday, and I posted on Facebook and e-mailed. I let everyone know I’d really like to get any sort of mail,’’ said Sexton, who sends lots of postcards through the mail herself. “Oh my goodness, the response was insane… . I had 80 people respond - I think 21 of the 50 states were represented, and five continents.’’

Pretty ironic that she used Facebook to solicit snail mail. And, feels like a bit of a victory, too.

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