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Penmanship: a lost art

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If you're a person who thinks of good penmanship as an archaic knack like tatting and spinning, then recent trends will not trouble you.

If, on the other hand, you see penmanship as an art and believe it brings a touch of humanity to a world of girders and gigabytes, then take note. Within a generation, cursive handwriting may go the way of the typewriter. Today, 90 percent of kids between ages 5 and 17 use computers for e-mail, instant messaging and doing homework. Many can type 30 words a minute by the time they leave grade school. Even those who still write some things by hand tend to mix and match printing and writing in a mish-mash of styles.

The Palmer Method, with its looping vowels, flowing descenders and charming continuity, is fast dying out.

And some, no doubt, are asking why that matters.

To begin with, the open market seems to think it matters. Today, hand-written letters from prominent people are selling for record-setting prices. The autographs of baseball players, once traded among kids like bubblegum cards, can now bring hundreds of dollars apiece. Something about the immediacy, the feeling of connection and the personality of the hand-written word makes it appealing. It's demise is making it valuable. There's a sense that handwriting flows from the heart. Like an oil painting, anything handwritten is one of a kind. For those sensitive to such things, it holds the power of breath and blood.

Some will view such sentiments as so much romantic claptrap, of course. They will argue that the Palmer Method has outlived its usefulness and has simply been replaced by better and quicker ways to communicate. Typography, not calligraphy, is the art of the day. Cursive handwriting is a horse and buggy in a bullet train world.

One wonders if such people would also feel that handcrafted clocks have outlived their usefulness.

Has the photograph finally replaced portraiture?

Is the synthesized sound of a violin the same as a person drawing a bow across the strings?

In practical matters, they might be. When it comes to sheer production numbers and quality control, technology trumps the handmade.

But if the Palmer Method is nothing but an out-moded technique from a bygone era, why does it feel like something is being lost?

And why are so many already beginning to mourn its passing?