I’ve been thinking recently about how to preserve information for future generations. I do most of my writing and work on a computer these days, and while it does have obvious advantages, it also has some drawbacks. For most of the day-to-day work and notes I write to myself and others, the computer works just fine, but for anything that has a lot of personal meaning to me, electronic documents just seem unacceptable. As I heard on the radio the other day, no one will open up a box of mementos one day to show their kids a cherished email or IM transcript. I have tendency to just bang out emails without doing much in the way of editing anyways, so that’s not the sort of thing I want to leave behind as a legacy to my kids and grandkids.
Electronic documents have plenty of other problems. Between changing computing platforms (anyone remember the Commodore 64?), operating systems (CPM, DR-DOS, VAX), word processing standards (Word Perfect, WordStar, etc), and hardware (I still have 5.25″ floppy disks for some strange reason, even though I haven’t had a compatible drive in a decade), someone 50 years from now will have a number of issues trying to get anything off a CDROM or flash drive, assuming that there’s both a regular supply of electricity to power the computer (probably, but not guaranteed) and that the media on which the data was stored hasn’t degraded to the point that it’s unusable even if the proper reader can be found.
So, I decided to embrace the low-tech solution of using the old standby: pen and paper. As an experiment, I sat down and tried to write a note to my son that I would give to him at some unspecified future milestone in his life. I thought about what I was going to write, constructed the paragraph in my head, and then started writing. When I finished, I set down the pen and looked at my handiwork, and I couldn’t believe my lying eyes:
I have horrible, messy handwriting that a 4th-grader would be embarrassed to hand in.
My handwriting was never that great, but a year of failing at trying to write Cyrillic in my college Russian classes sounded the death knell for my cursive writing. Since then, I’d relied exclusively on block letter printing that’s legible but otherwise unfit for any major work. So, I doggedly tried my hand at cursive again, and was less than impressed with the inky roadkill that littered the page in front of me.
Having neat handwriting was once considered an important skill, but it’s fallen out of favor in schools it seems and has been replaced with ‘keyboarding.’ In our modern information age, it seems that words per minute has replaced grace and style as the measuring rod for success in communication. This is too bad, for many of the great written documents of history (ex. US Declaration of Independence, The Magna Carta, etc) would not seem nearly as venerable had they been scrawled out by an untrained hand with uneven, sloppy lettering.
So, one of my personal projects for the year is to redevelop my handwriting skills, and I’ll probably move away from the traditional cursive I was taught way back in grade school in favor of something a little less loopy.
If you’re interested, I found these links on the web that I find handy.