Prior to beginning my accounting studies at the local college, I was lucky enough to join a small accounting firm with no previous finance experience. I knew the accountant prior to joining the firm and he was gracious enough to give me a simple job during the height of tax season.
My boss1 has taught me many finance and business lessons that can’t be learned in school. Yet, the majority of my learning takes place in non-business and non-finance aspects of life.
One of the most important lessons has been penmanship. Any signatures in the office are handled with care and proper letters are handwritten, signed and delivered. My favourite of his penmanship statements:
Sign the paper like you give a damn.
My boss’ level of organization is by no means exemplary. If not for his secretary, random files would be situated in all corners of the office and there would be little chance of executing a coherent client appointment. I’m not one to talk either — his secretary could probably spend eight hours a day tending after the two of us.
Despite the lack of organization, his documents and files maintain a level of beauty few others can match. His pen markings are clearly evident throughout his work, showcasing his dedication and care for the traditional medium. His insistence of crafted penmanship has been instilled throughout the rest of his firm.
It’s not every day that I witness him handwrite a letter for a client. In fact, it’s still fairly rare, especially during tax season. But watching him handwrite is always a pleasure. His signature is perfectly legible and his figures are impeccable. Considering his status in the local community, one would think this level of handwriting would be more common.
Yet, I haven’t received a single handwritten letter in the last 10 years. Most text-based forms of communication are made in Microsoft Word and names are entered via some mail-merge process. I’m sure there was a time when typing a letter showed you truly cared for the message’s recipient, but that time has long since passed.
So when I read this piece by Brett King, my heart sank. He hypothesizes — correctly perhaps — that the signature is no longer the structurally sound tool it once was:
Clearly the customers of the future are not big fans of a signature — they’re not writing checks (or cheques). They’re not working with banks that use signature cards generally either. Their life is based on a digital persona, and real-time digital access to their phone or bank account is increasingly based on biometrics that are much better fraud prevention measures and identity verification methods than a cursive writing-based signature. Why insist that these kids still sign their college application, mortgage application or bank account opening form in this day an age? It just doesn’t make sense.
Proper penmanship isn’t taught in school despite research that shows it should be. I was assigned marking duties in a seventh grade social studies classroom during my education internship. Of the 25 assignments, maybe 15 assignments were completed with legibility acceptable for grading. Taking those 10 poorly written tests and having those students type out their answers resulted in above average grades.
For the most part, I can understand why handwriting isn’t taught in schools. Handwriting is inefficient and time-consuming. Handwriting is a learned skill that takes years to develop. And handwriting can be uncomfortable for some people. Society at all levels value mathematical, scientific and technological skills that don’t require penmanship. Keyboards are easier to teach, faster to use and potentially healthier to operate. They even have a backspace key.
There would be little debate in saying that humanity is lost with a keyboard though. The keyboard is personality’s vehicle of defeat. Generic fonts, absolute line-height, perfect letter-spacing — these are all enemies of “us” in communication. Even crossed out words show an intimate characteristic not present in typed documents.
My boss’ insistence on personable penmanship is noteworthy and encouraging. Handwriting isn’t dead yet and he is living proof. I carry a pocket notebook and pen wherever I go and I know I’m not the only person. I intend to do this for as long as it remains the most intimate form of communication.
However, it’s scary to think that a 6,000 year old invention is considered a dying art form. And one has to wonder about the implications of this phenomenon.
It’s weird calling him my boss. I don’t think he considers himself my boss. Regardless, I don’t know a better term to described our relative roles. ↩