Communication has evolved through generations, initiating with crude smoke signals, then carrier pigeons, and then, in a surge of inspiration, telegraph machines that could carry messages almost instantaneously across oceans. Alexander Bell invented the eminent telephone in 1876, an ingenious invention that gradually became a staple in every household. Almost a century later, the first handheld phone was invented on April 3rd, 1973. This “revolutionary” appliance bore an uncanny resemblance to a brick, offered a talk time of a mere 30 minutes, and took ten hours to charge. Because of this inconvenience, our parents grew up accustomed to the trials of the more widespread landline, contending with eavesdropping parents, impatient siblings, and other inevitable difficulties that arise from a corded phone attached, most commonly, to a wall. Over the course of a couple decades, the convenient flip phone and then smartphone, or SIM for short, made their respective appearances, usually frequenting the pockets of responsible adults rather than children.
By 2007, Apple had contrived the iPhone, an innovation that rapidly began to shape our modern day world, dominating the way we communicate over decade-long span. From impressionable infants to baffled seniors, a phone is a familiar, almost necessary fixture individuals have adopted, and then succeeded to grow reliant upon. Skype, Instagram, Facebook, email, texting, and Snapchat have molded our relationships, forging friendships and maintaining family ties. We have integrated a contemporary language to correspond with this prevalent form of socializing, conveying messages through a single icon, dubbed “emojis,” and compressing sentences into short, informal snippets called texting slang. A average person is required to interpret the intended meaning behind a single image in any given context and decipher a vast variation of seemingly random letters on almost a daily basis. What was intended to enhance long distance relationships soon dictated close bonds as well, with electricity’s convenience forging a alternative way of socializing.
Yet, as autocorrect and typing reigned over teenagers, some skills diminished, unnoticed, in tandem. Along with spelling, printing, and vocabulary, meaningful interaction has declined, defined alternatively by offhand text messages, generally punctuated by spelling mistakes and shorthand. The eloquence of a thoughtful, handwritten letter has become, like the vast beauty of the English language, a lost art. For the convenience of a phone, teens unintentionally trade away the ability to communicate clearly and fluently, losing many imperative socials skills in the process.
These abilities may seem redundant in a high-tech society, and many disregard the value of handwriting, dismissing it as sentimental tosh. However, there is scientific evidence supporting the necessity. Virginia Berninger, a educational psychology professor, stated that, “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.” This implies the action to directly relate with memory, organization, and other “executive function” skills, as dubbed by an article in the “Journal of Learning Disabilities.” According to Dr. James, writing by hand, “changes brain function and can change brain development” and states that “learning and interacting with the world with our hands has a really significant effect on our cognition.” This research, merged with the nostalgic beauty of a language developed and refined for a much longer period than phones, should reinforce the importance of handwriting.
Although typing is also important, everyone, once in a while, should take the time to pull out the forgotten pen or pencil and a sheet of paper — maybe even unearth a prospective penpal — and simply write.