Modern Technology has Led to a Dangerous Decline in Penmanship

Calligraphy is a dead art these days. While penmanship used to be highly valued, the rise of the modern printing has eroded our day-to-day need for legible handwriting. From desktop printers to tablet computers that allow us to take notes via touchscreen keyboard, we have fewer and fewer occasions where handwriting is required. Text messaging, e-mail, word processing software, and “click here to sign” online agreements have gotten us to the point where even a written signature is scarcely needed. It is no surprise that modern technology has greatly worsened our handwriting skills.

According to, teens’ “text speak” has begun showing up in formal writing assignments submitted at schools nationwide. Teachers in the United Kingdom are worried that legible English will be rare within a century as the instances where we must write words by hand become fewer in number, reports the BBC. Cursive handwriting, once an expected skill, is on the way out in many U.S. states, says the Washington Post, with states no longer requiring elementary school students to learn cursive lettering. The impact of our declining penmanship may be vast: Despite some experts, such as professor Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED Prize, claiming that proper spelling and grammar are less important today due to the rise of electronic aids like spell-check and autocorrect, according to the Daily Mail, others claim that losing legible handwriting means losing important mental foundations and giving up too much human autonomy to machines.

The impact of modern technology on handwriting may already be felt in declining test scores. According to DailyFinance, U.S. standardized testing scores, in the form of the college readiness SAT test, sank to record lows for the high school Class of 2011. The Huffington Post reports that even top U.S. students are losing ground in terms of vocabulary. These negative changes in American academic performance could be the result of students not being as mentally invested in taking notes or studying, relying on cell phones and tablet computers instead of the more rigorous pen-and-paper to take notes and prepare for exams. Engaging in more rigorous activity when learning, such as writing by hand, creates more mental connections and pathways and may help students better remember the information.

Years ago, students engaged in handwriting even when goofing off in class, such as by writing notes to friends that would be passed surreptitiously, up rows and down aisles, to the intended recipient. Today, with the rise of text messaging and social networking sites, handwritten notes to friends are largely things of the past. When rare handwriting must occur, such as taking notes, handwriting skills have eroded so much that students can scarcely read their own writing, leading to drastic misinterpretation of information during studying! Academic scores may be falling because so many students, preferring texting and hastily-typed Facebook messages to written letters, cannot read their own school notes.

Another potential problem with this state of affairs is that many Americans will not know how to communicate in the event of electronic disturbance, such as a power outage. If the power goes out, how will people communicate in writing? Having forgotten how to write legibly or efficiently, citizens would be unable to convey complex information in a timely manner, possibly leading to dangerous misunderstandings causing widespread problems. For example, poorly-scrawled directions could be misunderstood and people and supplies could end up places other than where they were supposed to be.