Lost handwriting, lost insights
The other day I came back to my desk and someone I work with had left a book for me. On the press release that came with it, they had scribbled a note. “Thought you might like this – Christian”. I went and found Christian and thanked him. He gave me a puzzled look. “What book?” “That book you left on my desk.” “No, no, wasn’t me.”
I studied the scribble a bit more closely. I realised that the person who had left me the book wasn’t called Christian. They were called Christina.
Christian and Christina are both people I’ve worked with for some years. But until this moment I had never seen either’s handwriting. As with all work colleagues, our written communication had been entirely on email.
Seeing Christina’s handwriting – like seeing anyone’s handwriting – I felt that in a small way I’d learnt something about her. That’s the sense that another colleague seemed to get when she saw me hand-writing something recently. “Ahh, right …” she said knowingly, peering at the paper.
Back in the early 1980s I worked as a sub-editor on The Times. In those pre-new technology days we subbed everything using pen and paper. We were expert in subbing marks now long forgotten – an underline for italics, two little lines under a letter to indicate that it should be capped up, the arc-shaped symbol that indicated the closure of a space, and so on – and we filled in forms detailing headline styles and sizes and other information the printers needed. Day in day out for many years we saw each other’s work and we knew each other – in part – by our handwriting.
If handwriting didn’t provide insights into people’s personalities, graphologists wouldn’t exist, and when I think of my Times friends from all those years ago, an image of their handwriting pops up in my mind. And I realise that the Victorian elegance of Sri’s lines, the angular shapes created by Vince, and Clive’s energetic scrawl helped me understand the people that they were.
As it happened, a few of us from those Times days had a reunion recently. And when I looked around the room, I saw not just a group of old friends but I saw all their handwriting too. Someone had actually kept one of the printers’ forms we used to fill in, with its original handwritten instructions, and brought it along – a holy relic from a bygone age. Some 30 years on, we all knew straightaway whose writing it was.
There’s the prospect that within a few generations handwriting will have disappeared for ever. Human beings will do everything on a keypad. It won’t be the end of civilisation. But it will be the end of a source of mutual knowledge.Tagged in: graphology, handwriting
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