Cursive, which you might have heard about from someone who lived in the old days, was also known as “making squiggly things” with your writing implement, ideally a quill, upon some yellow-stained parchment. You might have described it colloquially as “big girl/boy writing.” You probably learned how to do it around the time that you stopped wetting the bed and crying at recess and wearing a powdered wig, or at least, that’s what we hear. There was special really big paper for it, with lines! But don’t worry about that, because cursive is practically dead nowadays.
The New York Times, which has a thought-provoking piece on the mysterious dying art, quoted a third grade teacher who spoke of the devastating condition facing today’s human children.
“The majority of students cannot write in cursive, nor can they read it. At the same time, their printing skills are awful. Not only is it difficult for me to read, they themselves often cannot read back their own notes.”
However, this is not what you might think. This is not because students are idiots now. This is because cursive sucks! And, in our modern day keyboard- and smartphone-focused lifestyles, we simply don’t need it. Like the vestigial tails of our evolutionary youth, holding a pen or pencil, writing on those reminders of tree death we call “paper,” forming the odd curlicue letters that are harder to comprehend than an especially difficult CAPTCHA when all you want to do is buy the freaking LCD Soundsystem tickets, is simply not important now. Cursive abilities have fled from our human forms because, it seems, we no longer need them. Except for signing our names on bills and stuff, which is really just putting a pen in a fist and swirling it around a bit on something flat. And who knows how long that fun will last?
While the New York Times confronts the unforseen challenges — will we lose important handwriting motor skills? Will forgers thrive? What if someone has to read the Constitution? — we confronted the forseen. Each of us, ranging in age from 19 to an extremely youthful thirtysomething, attempted to write cursive. Our brains flexed, our hands throbbed. We had no idea what to do. This is what arose. (We were all sober.)
Truthfully, it was hard, even for the eldest of us. Truthfully, holding a pen is hard, too, and pressing it to paper to make things called letters even harder. We don’t write on paper much in these parts. Nor do we need to. We enjoy the clacking of the keys, the mutuality at which we form thoughts and sentences, the lack of ink dappling our nubile fingertips, a/k/a, keyboard pushers. Anything else just feels kind of…slow. So if progress has killed cursive, then, well…R.I.P., cursive. We don’t write on cave walls anymore, either, at least, the majority of us don’t.
Onward and upward, keyboard soldiers! Until those fingers fall off and are replaced with something better.
The Case for Cursive [NYT]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 28, 2011