Chicken Scratches

When I was a kid, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Greaser (I’m not making that name up.), used to send exasperated notes home to my mom complaining about my penmanship. I had the sloppiest cursive writing at Lodi Elementary.

Over the years, I took to printing more. Now I print almost exclusively. And my signature? I have to fake a signature on legal documents in order for it to be legible. My signature, thanks to those touchscreen credit card machines, is a scribble. I seriously doubt I’ve actually signed my name to a credit card receipt in three or four years. In fact, I question why they require signatures now. They’re meaningless.

AJ cannot even write cursive. Nita tells me he struggled with it until he started middle school, which would be a couple of years before I came on the scene. He prints. Even his signature is printed. It’s legal. It has to be. The boy cannot scrawl in cursive to save his own life.

Cursive was once taught as a business skill. Once upona, cursive was the only way to write business and legal documents. Even with the advent of the typewriter, you still needed cursive. Students would spend at least an hour a day working on their penmanship. However, when I was seven years old, we were well into the age of the IBM Selectric. You needed to learn to type. In fact, if you were going to work on those fancy, room-sized computer thangies, they weren’t going to teach you how to use a punch card. No, sir. The new computers had typewriter-like keyboards, dammit, and you’d better learn to type. I got half an hour of cursive writing from the first grade through the fourth grade.

AJ was born in 1994, the same year I got my first personal computer. By that time, the World Wide Web and the Internet were two separate things.  (Well, technically, they still are, but not on any level meaningful to most people.) It was a Mac vs. Windows world, and Windows 95 was on the horizon. Everyone had a computer. So AJ is like me in some respects. My world always had television. His always had the Internet. So when he hit the second grade about the time George Bush finished putting all the Oval Office’s Ikea stuff together, he only received 15 minutes of cursive a day.

As cursive goes away, some interesting changes are in the offing. Forgery will become an obsolete crime. Specialists will come on the scene to decipher handwritten documents for the first generations that will not have the ability to understand cursive writing. But then venerable documents, such as the Magna Carta, the US Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, which are already hard to read by my generation, will be illegible to some who are already alive.

What does all this mean to us as a society?

Who knows? But it will be a different world for this one small detail changing.

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2 thoughts on “Chicken Scratches

  1. Cursive: There’s a font for that.

    I very much concur that cursive is dying, but I do think people will still drag the future of writing and typing into their own personalized and customized directions.

    My father, a drafting engineer, wrote everything IN ALL-CAPS. My mother, who died last year of ALS, went to her grave writing everything in (illegible) cursive. I can write either, but favor stylized lowercase text for maximum readability. In Spanish I learned to cross my sevens, in programming to cross my zer0s, and in chemistry to cross my Zs. All my lowercase ts and ls have hooks so that I, 1, and l don’t all look the same.

    I can only hope that computer fonts will improve readability with time. Fonts like Optimum provide helpful weighted font metrics for professional sans serif print, yet provide enough visual cues that serif flags aren’t needed. Trebuchet MS is a rather standard font on the web, and discerns Is, 1s, and ls. UTF-8/Unicode provides growing typographical symbols that one can only hope will continue to expand… I’ll be damned if I’m confined to a 26 letter alphabet.

    PDAs, phones, and tablets have proven that hand-writing recognition isn’t as feasible as typing, even on a virtual iKeyboard. But we’ve come a long way from Atari 4-bit capitals to CSS3 enhanced type. The future is richer media, with all the colors, textures, and lighting effects you choose to add.

  2. I also forgot to add… IANAL, but it is my understanding that no institution can set the standards of readability for your signature. If it says “Joel Nye” but strangely resembles “JOHN Q. SMITH III,” my signature is still mine, no matter what it looks like.

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