Thursday, March 19, 2009

The spirit of the pen

It’s my experience that however great a change sweeps over us, there is always room for what went before. I guess it’s neatly summed up in the aphorism ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. All this is the long way round to explaining why I still use a fax. While my faxes are often sent in the form of PDFs, it’s the spirit of the fax that lives on – or should I say the spirit of handwriting. Last year I mentioned how much I value the intimacy of a handwritten postcard, today I want to consider further the power of handwriting.

Anyone who works with me knows that I often communicate in the form of handwritten notes on typed memos. That combination of handwriting and typed text brings a freshness and immediacy I don’t get in email. It’s the contrast. The sense of two different ways of thinking at work together. One making a commentary (or drawing a bullseye) on the other. The message seems to be: we share all this knowledge, but this is what to pay attention to, this is what to get onto next.

From the small number of handwritten notes I receive, I get the feeling that handwriting may be a dying art. That would be a real loss of expression and intimacy.

This thought was echoed by a comment from the BBC. It was reported that registrars of births, deaths, and marriages in the UK remarkably still record in cursive script. The great events of our lives, the connections between past, present, and future, all handwritten. How the data jockeys have allowed this little piece of history slip by them is a mystery, but let’s appreciate this gift for as long as we have it.

Of course the decline or demise of handwriting has been foreseen many times. The invention of the typewriter inspired the usually canny Scientific American to predict in 1867 that, “the weary process of learning penmanship in schools will be reduced to writing one’s own signature and playing on the literary piano”. Nearly 150 years later there’s life in the old pen yet – although the ‘literary piano’ seems to be lost in the attic gathering dust.


Sylvio R. said...

You`re the second guru (yes, you`re) that I see talk about this: handwritting. Seth Godin and you Kevin are pretty right to think that way. And I will carry the advice for 150 years, if I can.

Joseph Hoye said...

I suspect that handwriting and other hardcopy will be with us for a while longer. The medium will remain but what it contains and how it contains it will not. It would be interesting to compare notes we wrote twenty or thirty or forty years ago with our current memos etc. Do we take more care with keywords? Are our memos easier to skimread?
How much of what we are training ourselves to read on the web is filtering through to the way we create and view hardcopy?
Bearing in mind that sans-serif is more web friendly and thus more familiar to younger generations, will we see the demise of cursive script? The answer is- probably not. It will,however, become increasingly marginalised. It will remain as a signifier of both romantic notions and an other-worldliness associated with Fantasy.
On a personal note, it wasn't until teachers gave up trying to teach me a cursive script (and left me to scrawl in block letters) that I actually started to produce work worth reading.
Good, thought-provoking blog.

Ian Sanders said...

Having received some of Kevin's handwritten faxes or scans of handwritten annotations on printed out emails; I really agree about the power of the pen. The handwritten word has personality and power that email, Twitter et al lack.
I've just returned from a week at South By South West Interactive in Texas, a cutting-edge festival where new ideas are exchanged and new technologies discussed. I've been engaged in follow-up with peple i met there via email and Twitter. Then this morning, a card landed on my desk from a guy I'd met. He took the trouble of sending a handwritten postcard. And amongst all the clutter of electronic information overload, that really stands out.

Thom Singer said...

I have written books on the subject of creating and cultivating a professional network. One of the most powerful tools is sending handwritten notes. We get caught up in the speed and efficiency of email, but forget that is just "routine".

Everyone LOVES to get a card in the mail. Be the catalyst that makes the other person feel good and you will be remembered.

Kevin Roberts said...

@Thom Singer: The irresistible mix of mystery, sensuality and intimacy makes handwritten notes one of the most sincere and heartfelt examples of a Lovemark.