Dear Finland, please reconsider the value of a handwritten letter

Handwriting is the nearest most of us get to an artistic gesture

The village scribe, you might imagine, is pretty much out of a job in the West, in the 21st century, but my young friend has never been so busy. She has a skill that others seek out, on important occasions, notably weddings. She can take a few words, and make them really beautiful – not with her prettily modulated speech, but with her handwriting.

You want to send an elegant, once-in-a-lifetime invitation? Get Nicky to write it. A menu that says the food is all home-made? Nicky, again. So it’s a good job that she is not growing up in Finland, and that the year is not 2040, because you would be on your own.

Finnish schools are to stop teaching joined-up writing, on the grounds that being nifty at a keyboard is more  important. This is like giving up the piano because you can ride a bike.

Handwriting is the face of a person out of sight, as distinctive as their gait, their features or their dress. It is only slightly about putting words on record, and a great deal about making them count. Anything with a paw or two, yes, even those monkeys with typewriters, can splatter letters on to a screen. But only a person with a pen and a penchant for making beautiful characters can write a letter of condolence that looks as though it came from the heart, or a shopping list that stills work when it is left at home, because it’s the act of writing “cornflakes” that makes you think to buy cornflakes.

Yes, touch-typing is an absolute requirement for the young, and it is astonishing that it has not been taught universally for longer, thereby saving thousands of hours over a lifetime of searching for the – where are they? – Q or Z. It is also better for the neck. My physiotherapist friend already has a job for life sorting out texters’ thumbs, and doesn’t need a waiting room full of bad backs too.

Touch-typing takes a few hours to master, and is a skill that lasts a lifetime, like driving or swimming. But neither replaces walking, and typing isn’t putting pen to paper.

Handwriting is the nearest most of us get to an artistic gesture, and we neglect its power and creativity if we think it is redundant. Few of us get to wield a paintbrush or charcoal daily, to make a mark that is completely original to us, that was never made before, will never be made again. And that takes a little effort, an unfashionable thing. But it shows the historians of the future how the writer feels – are they calm or furious, whatever their words say?

Paper was once so precious that correspondents or novelists wrote so minutely that their work is hard to decipher. When words are that highly prized, you do not squander them and reach for the backspace. So, I hope that Finland reconsiders, and that other countries do not follow suit. We should not stick a generation in the same verbal uniform and deny it its calligraphic Sunday best or gardening clothes. There won’t be enough Nickys to go round.

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