Service of Technology

December 6th, 2010

Categories: Details, Technology, Writing


Writers and writing have been the focus in Service of: the Typo Squad; Ghost Writers; Headlines and Children’s books, to name a few posts and I’ve addressed technology some 15 times.

In a segment of Book TV featuring historian Joseph J. Ellis, Ellis mentioned something in the Q & A portion about “First Family Abigail and John Adams.” It’s worth mulling over especially if you write for work or pleasure.

Ellis said he wrote his books in longhand and that he felt that the best writing is done this way.

Am I missing something because I disagree? Maybe Ellis has something here: Handmade furniture, hand finished fashion, hand knitted sweaters, homemade food–aren’t they all better than their mass-produced cousins?  

I think moving from paper to computer keyboard requires training the brain to punch out thoughts. It doesn’t happen naturally unless you’re a child who has played with keyboards since infancy. The transition takes a little time especially if you spent years filling out bluebooks and responding to quizzes that didn’t involve multiple choice X’s, or in the case of Ellis, if that’s how you’ve written all your books.

badhandwritingEven though my handwriting has always been appalling, in the typewriter years I wrote out every press release, photo caption, speech, slide show, white paper or brochure before I typed it. I can’t go back to that. I think I write better today because it’s so easy and fast to edit and rewrite on a computer. [Making corrections on a typewriter–electric or otherwise–was a nightmare and deciphering my scribbles, even on lined yellow pads, worse.]

Apart from thank you notes and condolence letters, do you write anything longhand anymore? Do you think your style benefits because it takes longer to write longhand than to zip out copy on a computer keyboard?


12 Responses to “Service of Technology”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Writing is a subjective activity, so there is no right or wrong when composing in long hand or using a technical method. To state one way of doing things is better than another, is losing sight of the fact there is more than one person involved. Aquinas might have profited by the use of a computer or at least a typewriter, and lucked out there have been people around to understand the script. Is it possible they didn’t, and what is attributed to the saint is merely what some bewildered souls thought he said?

  2. Martha Takayama Said:

    I fully sympathize with all the inconveniences your own handwriting generates and share your sentiments. At first it seemed more difficult to write on a computer directly than long-hand, particularly when doing translations. But the facility offered by writing directly on a computer, with options for proof-reading and instant corrections which can be seen virtually immediately in clean text, long ago made me collect and express my thoughts with great ease on the computer.

    I appreciate the graciousness of handwriting social correspondence, and am apt to make often barely legible notes for myself in my appointment book. However, I now find professional writing greatly facilitated by technology’s options.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your wondering about what Aquinas may have written is yet another reason longhand is out of the question for many. Somebody must type Mr. Ellis’s longhand…I hope he proofs what’s typed. No publisher would accept his manuscript otherwise.

    As for which is the better way, maybe the word “better” is inappropriate. I can only speak for me. Writing a business letter or photo caption longhand is out of the question much less a proposal or a BOOK!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I forgot about the editing and invaluable spelling help of a computer. I also love the Thesaurus option. Gotta watch everything before clicking, though, as at times, the computer has a mind of its own and seems to be editing or spelling in a different language! You must be especially careful if in a rush as SpellCheck can change the spelling of a client’s name in a flash. Ouch.

  5. David Reich Said:

    I’ll often write personal notes longhand, but almost everything else is done on a keyboard. It goes back to my early days in PR, when my boss and mentor refused to take any copy from me unless it was typed. Learn to think on tyhe keyboard, he told me. You’ll be able to write and edit yourself a lot faster.

    He was right. Now I have difficulty drafting a news release by hand. Of course, with today’s computers, you get the extra help of things like spellcheck and formatting.

  6. Nenaghgal Said:

    I often write out my blog entries before I input them in to the computer and I’m a notorious note taker. Sadly this generation could lose the magic and beauty of writing because everything is so computer driven. My 10 year old daughter now has to write with a fountain pen in school – for everything – math as well – and it is so beautiful watching her perfect her “joined up writing” – I’m thinking of getting a fountain pen myself for special things. By writing things down – we are not able to “edit” our thoughts – they have to be re-written or re-worked by hand – perhaps we “edit” ourselves too quickly….maybe we should all take a bit of time to let our thoughts flow and be more creative.
    My daughter had an excercise for school last night and she had to write a menu for a hedgehog – how delightful is that? I think I’ll have to do a blog post on that! Working on getting her to do illustrations – anyway, her menu was very creative and fun! Let’s work on keeping that child inside of us all alive!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree with your mentor–it’s so much faster to write and to edit on a keyboard. I fear that I’d become frustrated if something happened to the electricity and wifi and I had to write out everything longhand again.

    But you, Martha and I point to the way everything today must be done in a flash. I feel that pressure. Nobody would pay for the time for any of us to take our time and do anything the old fashioned way, after much deliberation and weeks of thought. We learn to think fast and maybe we’d think better if we had a bit more time. I’m not sure–usually the first instinct is the best one but when I can fight for overnight before responding, I have been known to pick a perfect solution rather than an OK one.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You and your daughter are creative in artistic ways [as is your mother] and you are also a gifted writer. Perhaps learning to write longhand helps identify this talent. For those of us with zero artisitc skills, however, the slow process of writing out indecipherable copy can be painful and I am not convinced would improve the results of my work.

    I wonder what a lower school teacher could tell us about the importance of a child learning how to write before learning how to type. It makes sense but I would love to know the particulars. I went to a private school in NYC and in 11th grade, a bunch of us signed up for typing classes at the YWCA as we knew that our college papers would have to be typed. While I have always typed quickly, I didn’t make the transition to writing original copy on a keyboard until I used a computer.

  9. Simon Carr Said:

    I suffer from a severe form of dyslexia which involves not only seldom getting letters and numbers in the right order, but physically being unable to get words on paper by hand. The fastest I’ve ever been able to write by hand is at about one quarter the speed of a normal person. Being able to hunt and peck with two fingers on the computer has truly been a Godsend.

    However, despite my personal problem, I value deeply all the marvelous qualities a thoughtful letter, well written by hand, has to offer. Nothing ever written on any computer comes close to matching them. Indeed, most people that write me emails write appallingly badly and waste my time.

    While I personally benefit from the invention of computers and the internet, they are evil demons, which, like Saturn, will eventually devour our young and the very essence of our civilization.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    How dramatic! My oh my! You and Nenaghal see eye to eye, although I don’t think she’d go as far as you about the impact of computers and the Internet!

    I had to giggle when you wrote about loving to get a thoughtful letter, well written–by hand. I wrote a condolence letter to a friend about his Mom. He chose to read it and nothing else at her gravesite. I did my best to make my writing legible when I copied it from the original version typed on my computer.

  11. Claire Coleman Said:

    I beleive that typing (if that be the word for computer writing) provides you with a perspective that writing by hand doesn’t. You can really see what you are trying to say so much more effectively when it is printed out right in front of you. And, then, of course, there is the ease with which you can edit your copy so that it reflects accurately whatever it is you want to say. My vote is emphatically for computers.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I left my reading glasses at home one day and was able to read everything on my computer because I converted the size of the type to huge! Can’t do that with handwritten copy.

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