Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, part 34

I can't help recommending a couple of articles on the theme of technology that has recently become obsolete. The first is from PC World and is a top 40 of obsolete technology that you hardly noticed disappear; typewriters, phone booths, dial-up modems (if you feel nostalgic there's a web page with the sound effects!), VHS, floppy discs, camera film or ghetto blasters. We never really had time to say goodbye!

The other article is about the death of handwriting, or rather cursive handwriting, in Time magazine (Mourning the death of handwriting). Almost no-one under 30 writes cursive anymore and you would expect the reason to be technology. However since few schools have taught computing skills until very recently that cannot explain the demise of handwriting.

In the past people took great pride in their handwriting and a well-written letter showed not only a command of the language but also the ability to write in an aesthetically pleasing way. Elegant handwriting was equated with refinement and education. Today of course we let Word, PowerPoint and Acrobat help us to present our written thoughts in an elegant and professional manner. We write very little by hand apart from post-it notes, Christmas cards and shopping lists.

I don't think we'll miss floppy discs or typewriters but I wonder if the demise of handwriting falls into another category. Look at the long traditions behind calligraphy in Japan, China and the Muslim world. There it is an art form and people are expected to be able to read such texts. Maybe we're carelessly throwing away something rather beautiful.

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