From early childhood we take a pen in our hand and we write. It is a discipline that has been the foundation of compulsory formal education since the mid-19th century. But the very act of writing, which one might have thought could not be changed, is under threat.
Keyboards first, then digital tablets from 2010 have invaded developed countries, our homes and our workplaces and have ultimately changed our habits. We write more, but little, and less with a pen and paper .
More and more schools are considering abandoning, at least partially, the pen. In Switzerland an English private school, Geneva College, has spent 800,000 euros over three years to equip all of its classrooms with tablets. For some courses each student has a tablet equipped with specific educational programmes.
The teacher, tablet in hand, can see the students’ work while they are actually working on the exercises. In place of the blackboard, a projector displays the image of the tablet from the teacher.
“Now we need to worry about the advantage of 21st century skills, which the children of today will need in their working lives. At the same time, I think the skill of writing uses different parts of the brain from those which we use when trying to tap on the keyboard.,” said Evelyne Viret a teacher at the Leman College.
Education at the Leman College may be a precursor to the future. History is accelerating; according to Professor Claire Clivaz, a member of the Laboratory of Cultures and Digital Humanities at the University of Lausanne the eventual disappearance of the pen could have an impact on civilization as important as that caused by the invention of printing by Gutenberg in 1455.
“Maybe it will prove to be a fairly significant change. I think it is a little difficult to say we can no longer write by hand, we shall see. But I think we are able to adapt to make the most of our new ways of writing.
“Because with the Iphone, Ipad, you write by hand. What you lose is the contact with paper. This change in the relationship between body, writing and paper, yes, it is a significant change for civilization. Jacques Derrida , the philosopher, said ‘a new historical phase generates anxiety’, I would be careful to say it is a new culture that is developing with these electronic support tools.
“You can see that in place of writing now we have texting/ images/sound. The picture and sound are becoming increasingly important to the text,” said Claire Clivaz of the University of Lausanne.
Many studies have shown the influence of learning handwriting on the cognitive development of children. But for now, there is nothing to say categorically that the use of a keyboard to write is better or less good for the development of the brain.
“There certainly is a difference here between the actual execution of a structural gesture of a copy of a letter and a structural move that would tap on the recognition of a keyboard. I do not think there have been enough studies to say that another style of writing against the joined up handwriting will influence the development of a child,” said Michelle Kaufmann a speech therapist.
The pen is on the verge of losing the battle. According to reports published since 2012 by the institute Euromonitor , sales of pens are declining in most Western countries. In Switzerland, the sales of luxury pen ranges are up. Eventually handwriting could return to art, an aesthetic discipline that connects us to our identity, our culture: calligraphy.