For all the free information now at our fingertips, digitalisation is also dumbing us down. And it’s partly due to the fact that we’re typing more than writing. A study by the University of Washington discovered that the acts of writing and typing on a keyboard each trigger different and distinct brain patterns and end products and that when children wrote – as opposed to typed – they produced more words more quickly and expressed more ideas. Brain scans of the older children also revealed that those more adept at handwriting showed greater capacity for memory. The study even showed that those who used cursive writing are likely to be more advanced than those who print.
Psychologists from California University concluded that students learn better when taking notes by hand rather than via a keyboard, while other studies have shown that children learn to read more quickly when they first learnt to write by hand. “When we write, a unique, natural circuit is automatically activated,” Stanislas Dehaene of Paris’ College de France tells The New York Times. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental stimulation in your brain. And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realise.”
Yet schools across the globe are ditching it. As of next year, Finnish schools can opt to teach typing instead and in 2013 the USA removed compulsory cursive handwriting courses from its Common Core Standards Initiative. Though, a handful of states resisted. “Certainly there is a trend for the demise handwriting,” says Mike Maran, an Auckland-based handwriting expert. “It is important that handwriting remains relevant as we still use it for everyday applications. Also, handwriting exercises stimulate the brain with a co-ordinated approach, which includes the brain executing the movement on the pen and paper and expressing our thoughts fluently.”
Maran is a specialist in character analysis, handwriting and signature examination, a member of, among others, the American Handwriting Foundation and the Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners. Each person’s handwriting, he tells me, is as unique as a fingerprint and can be used to assess individual personalities. “Graphology looks at the many traits of handwriting such as slant, pressure, zones, baselines and connections,” he says. “The many traits are then assessed and applied through a character analysis. Learning how to apply the character traits takes many years of experience. Graphology is not to be confused with signature and handwriting examination, both use the same component traits of handwriting, but for different purposes.”
Graphology is a skill that likely dates back to16th-century Spain, with Juan Huarte de San Juan’s 1575 tome, Examen de Ingenios para las Ciencias. Writing itself, of course, has been around for millennia. Doubtful, though, it will be around for millennia more.