Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.
Last week, I had the good fortune of coming across a column written by Kip Layton Jr., a school administrator in the tiny, remote village of Eek, Alaska. It wasn’t fortunate simply by virtue of the entertainment I derive from being able to mention a place called Eek. Layton’s column provided a valuable insight into what our kids have missed out on by virtue of their ties to the Internet.
Obviously, access to computers in general and the Internet in particular is a godsend, and the sooner such access is universal, the better. But I was intrigued by Layton’s article, in which he wrote about what happened recently when his school lost its Internet connection.
Suddenly, an ecology class being broadcast to his rural school went off the air, students felt unable to write their papers, and teachers were in a quandary without their Smart Boards (computerized interactive whiteboards). Layton lamented the cloud of helplessness that settled over the school and harked back to “a time when learning and communication had a more meaningful, personal touch.”
The episode reminded me of a column I wrote several years back, titled “The Lost Art of Handwriting.” That column was picked up by a number of IDG publications around the world, and I can’t think of anything I’ve written that drew a more global response from readers who identified with my experience. Here’s a lightly edited excerpt, offered as a toast to Layton’s piece:
I have a 19-year-old son who is absolutely brilliant. He finished high school with a 4.0 grade-point average, scored a 1500 on the SAT, and was accepted for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy. Yet this brilliant young man has the handwriting of a 4-year-old. It’s humiliating. And why is this the case? Because he grew up in front of a keyboard. Virtually everything he ever did involving the written word was typed.
If there’s anything good to say about his handwriting at all, it’s that it’s not quite as horrible as the “handwriting” of my 14-year-old son, who has even less experience away from a computer and whose scrawl looks like he was holding the pen between his toes. With frostbite.
You no doubt have seen the same thing. People over 35 generally have lovely handwriting. The 25-to-35 age group has decent handwriting. And the under-25 crowd is a legibility laughingstock. It’s all because of computers. And it’s kind of a shame.
I had lost sight of just how much of a shame it really is until just these past six weeks since my son has been at the Naval Academy. He hasn’t had access to a computer all this time, so the only way to correspond with him has been by post. I clearly could have written the letters on my computer and printed them out, but I didn’t. I suppose the reason is that I can remember as a kid getting letters from my mom and dad and noticing their different styles of handwriting and appreciating that unique personal expression.
I wanted my son to see that same expressiveness and individuality and personality in my correspondence with him, so I’ve been writing my letters to him longhand. Six weeks ago, I probably would have said I don’t have time to write letters longhand. Turns out I do.
My son will be getting his computer in a couple of weeks, and our correspondence will no doubt shift to e-mail and IM — the convenience and timeliness are just too compelling. And I probably won’t get around to writing letters longhand anymore. It would be silly, I suppose, because the letters would be so dated. Too bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that we have e-mail and IM, I really am. And it’s a terrific thing that the kids in Eek have access to the Internet. But I have a feeling that, given the chance, those kids would enjoy learning about what Layton called “those little white cards in that mysterious chest in the library” as much as I loved writing those letters.
Don Tennant is editorial director of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit his blog at http://blogs.computerworld.com/tennant.