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Conversations About Handwriting

• So, the U.S. Postal Service is considering eliminating Saturday mail delivery – and chose to make the announcement via email rather than good ol' hand-delivered mail.

According to the Washington Post, the postmaster general is required to submit his plans in electronic format to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which will make a recommendation as to whether Saturday service should end.

Submitting via e-mail "does not go against the grain," insisted a PRC spokesman.

Submitting the plans online provides for transparency and accountability and sending hard copies would require the extra work of scanning documents and posting them online, he said.

So the explanation appears to prove a point: Paper mail is increasingly obsolete and inconvenient.

Kind of hard to encourage people to send more letters when even the postal service prefers push-button delivery.

• At least one senior person in the U.S. government still believes in handwritten letters. The Post reports that President Barack Obama makes it a point to read 10 letters a day from the public.

The president receives 20,000 letters and emails every day. His staff weeds through them to find the ones that give him an idea what life is like outside "the presidential bubble," according to the paper. And:

He prefers handwritten letters to e-mails, believing them to be more thoughtful, with better stories.

Obama responds by hand to five to 15 of the letters each week, writing notes with a black fountain pen on thick white card stock bearing the presidential seal.

• Ramin Setoodeh makes the case in Newsweek that Hollywood is still nursing a strong affection for written correspondence, especially love letters.

In Dear John, a soldier overseas has a gushing, epistolary romance with his girlfriend back home. Letters to God is about an 8-year-old boy with cancer who sends dispatches to You Know Who and the mail carrier who befriends him. That's not to be confused with the upcoming Letters to Juliet, about an aspiring journalist (another dying breed!) who discovers a lost "Dear Abby"–like note on a trip to Italy and responds with her own advice on love.

Some of this paper fetish has to do with screenwriters showing their age, but most of it has to do with nostalgia. You can't pack the same narrative punch with e-mails, because we don't associate technology with voice (unless that digitized voice-recognition-speak does something for you).

And here you thought most Hollywood types were barely literate.

Bad handwriting is the source of a lot of humour, but not so much for Bob Shryock, a columnist at the Gloucester County Times. He has Parkinson's, which has made his never-that-great handwriting become all but unreadable.

As awful as my handwriting has always been, it worsened in the early part of the century when left-side tremors became my first pronounced Parkinson’s symptom.

On the operating room table for DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation surgery) seven years ago, surgeons had me write my name on a tablet. The result was typically ugly. But four or five hours later, with DBS successfully complete, they had me try again. And, like magic, the writing had dramatically improved. Of course, my improvements are measured in very small doses.

For seven years now, the tremors have stayed away. But while successful DBS eradicates tremors and some other symptoms, it doesn’t derail Parkinson’s progress.

And so my wretched handwriting, a near life-long curse, remains an apparent irreversible stigma.

We feel for him. Become unable to enjoy the simple pleasure of writing a note must be a tremendous loss.

• From Edward Iannuccilli, the author of “Growing Up Italian,” comes a brilliant little essay on why people should still take the time to sit down with pen and paper to write letters.

As the years went by, I stopped writing until one evening when I was watching a great old English movie. There was a scene of someone writing a letter. It was beautiful. The only things in the scene were gleaming white paper, a quill pen, blue-black ink and two hands; fingers steadying the paper in the upper left, and the writing hand caressing the pen as if it were a baby bird. Miss Casey would have given this writer an “A” for the thick, tall, looping letters, smooth strokes. And the beauty of the ink. It brought me back to the days of penmanship, paper, ink and my love of fountain pens. My thought was, “This is what we should be doing rather than e-mail. We should be writing to people on paper with fountain pen and ink. Even broken penmanship can be as smooth as soft summer waves. And the waves can carry the thought.”

Since rediscovering writing, he's made it a habit to send frequent handwritten notes and letters, crafted with a Parker fountain pen filled with blue-black ink. And clearly enjoys every moment of it.

• As if we needed more reasons to prefer handwritten letters to email, here's another: A recent study found that participants lied 50% more via email than they did in letters, according to PsyBlog.

In addition:

In some ways a more damning indictment of email from (the) study was that people reported feeling more justified in lying over email than they did when writing with pen and paper.

Across a further two experiments people consistently lied more over email and felt more justified in doing so, even when they were lying to someone they knew and when that person would find out. Participants seemed relatively unconcerned about the damage to their reputation caused by lying over email.

Part of the reason for this seemed to be the impermanence of email and the less personal connections people make online.

One thought on “Conversations About Handwriting”

  • bob

    Sounds like a typical Postal Service to me, they do similar things in the UK. It seems that outfits like this always want to diversify away from what they are supposed to do.
    As for President Obama's 20,000 per day emails what can one say. I can remember coming back from a 2 week break and finding 750 and that took me a day to clear and was exhausting. His Blackberry must be red hot to touch!

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