When Human Memory Becomes Disposable: From Handwriting to Hand-Typing

“A chosen society of philosophers, men of a liberal education and curious disposition, might silently meditate, and temperately discuss in the gardens of Athens or the library of Alexandria, the abstruse questions of metaphysical science. The lofty speculations, which neither convinced the understanding nor agitated the passions of the Platonists themselves, were carelessly overlooked by the idle, the busy, and even the studious part of mankind. But after the logos had been revealed as the sacred object of the faith, the hope, and the religious worship of the Christians, the mysterious system was embraced by a numerous and increasing multitude in every province of the Roman world. (Chapter 21) “.

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon / Gutenberg Edition

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon / Gutenberg Edition

“Theophilus proceeded to demolish the temple of Serapis, without any other difficulties than those which he found in the weight and solidity of the materials, but these obstacles proved so insuperable that he was obliged to leave the foundations, and to content himself with reducing the edifice itself to a heap of rubbish, a part of which was soon afterwards cleared away, to make room for a church erected in honour of the Christian martyrs. The valuable library of Alexandria was pillaged or destroyed; and near twenty years afterwards, the appearance of the empty shelves excited the regret and indignation of every spectator whose mind was not totally darkened by religious prejudice”. (Chapter 28), Edward Gibbons’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Divisive debates over the origins and eternity of LOGOS with ancient philosophers and Christians were ruling in Alexandria. The Temple of Serapis or the Library of Alexandria as we know it today, would stand witness to such ardent meditations if only it had not been burned down and manuscripts lost forever.

Logos has been and remains a matter of dispute throughout time. So is the giving and receiving of knowledge, from the burned scrolls of Ancient Alexandria to the manuscripts of monks in Medieval Ages, there was always a sense of control and gatekeeping over knowledge dissemination. After the first printed editions of the Bible made their way elsewhere than inside a monastery’s walls, mass access to printed books was available. Technology crept in from the first Gutenberg press to the WordPress of today when mostly anyone with remote IT skills may be a self-proclaimed publisher transforming oneself into an individual knowledge gatekeeper.

With the advance of the desktop generations and mass e-production of books, who needs handwriting and why handwriting should be still taught in schools? When international and development organizations flock together in bridging the digital divide between North and South more focused on connectivity and access than skills in areas where basic needs are yet to be met like tap water or food, one wonders why focus so much on tech benefits when other needs should prime?

Yes, this post is talking about the debate over the growing trend in the US education system to eliminate cursive handwriting from elementary schools, being perceived as an anachronism to today’s digitalized wannabe modern times. Pens and pencils have come under the reign of desktop and screen word processing programmes. So why are we talking about anachronism? Is it a matter of US culture or a global one? It might be a local topic, but with debate spreading elsewhere too.

However, looking towards the South, when Mali was attacked last year by Al-Qaeda fundamentalists, among the top priorities was burning down or destruction of Timbuktu manuscripts with a clear desire of destroying the identity, culture, civilization and memory of Mali people. Destruction of handwritten knowledge was a priority in Mali similar to the destruction of Alexandria’s scrolls in ancient Times.

In Romania, we a had a similar discussion last year when the Education and Communications Ministries thought of “vamping up” the forlorn national education system by envisaging e-books use instead of class books in elementary school.

The then Secretary of Education was telling us that instead of wasting money and paper over class books reprinting, the Ministry wants a large number of e-books available by 2013-2014. It is such a pity that the Ministry does not talk too much about IT skills in rural areas and how e-learning is actually used in areas where IT rooms are only opened and dusted when some ministry delegation arrives in town on political errands.

With Romania ranking so low in PISA 2009 tests in reading and maths or PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Achievement Literacy Study) tests in 2011 consequently having so many proven functional illiterates, I doubt that replacing printing or handwriting at least in Romanian education would be beneficial.

One cannot evade the question of the relevance humans are willingly attaching to technology instead of their human basic abilities thus losing touch with reality. What is the meaning of Facebook proficiency for an 8-year old if he/she cannot sign his/her name on paper thus placing human identity in the virtual than the real world?

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About Cristina Popa

Cristina is a WordPress blogger who regularly writes or shares updates on media, public affairs and various topics of interest. You may follow her on Communication for Development WP blog or Twitter @CristinaPopa0
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2 Responses to When Human Memory Becomes Disposable: From Handwriting to Hand-Typing

  1. marcelino guerrero says:

    Don’t care if its letter block or cursive, it must stay as a learning block for children. It teaches discipline, encourages creativity and dexterity with the hands.

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