Do people still write? British study says not so much

You might be a dinosaur if ... you still write things down on paper. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

When was the last time you scratched a note out in longhand? I mean take a pen, pencil or pocketknife and wrote something on paper, your hand or a bathroom wall.

If some of the pundits are to be believed, handwriting is a lost art. Another casualty of the digital age. According to an article on the Daily Mail (yeah, British press), the average adult hasn’t handwritten anything in more than 40 days. Anything. And if you take away what used to be the day-to-day jottings of adults — I’m thinking of those notes to yourself, grocery lists, phone numbers on a matchbook cover — only a third of adults actually sat down to write something in the past six months.

Now there’s scuttlebutt that the schools may at some point stop teaching young people how to write. Well, it’d been a while since they stopped teaching youngsters how to think … (Eric, just shut up; you’re going to get in trouble again!)

As I recall it in grade school (and my folks would be glad to fill in any gaps in my memory), my handwriting was beyond horrible. I seemed to lack the coordination (or the interest) to form my letters well, and things did not improve much when we learned the Palmer method of handwriting in third grade. By sixth grade I largely abandoned the Palmer teachings and reverted back to printing, which by then was a lot more readable. To this day I employ a half-printed, half-cursive hand, readable in most instances and instinctive enough that I can take notes without looking at the paper and still be able to understand it later. My penmanship (another wonderfully descriptive word that no one hears any more) is far from elegant, but it’s functional.

As far as my legal signature, forget it. You can’t read it. I got that honestly; Dad’s signature looks a lot like mine, like a Volkswagen that had been hit by a train. But you’re not supposed to read it. Years ago I knew this guy from the Middle East; he spoke fluent English without an accent, was thoroughly westernized. But he signed his checks in Arabic, starting in the middle and working outward. You don’t see anyone trying to forge that, he told me.

But now, there’s little call to write anything down. Pens and pencils may soon go the way of clocks with hands and landline telephones — cool to have, but some training may be required.

Think about it. We haven’t had to write long things out if there was a computer (or before that, a typewriter) handy.

Now we have smartphones. Just tap your note on that, save it to something like Evernote. Don’t need any pen. Or paper. Or pockets, for that matter.

Don’t even need to do much scribbling when you’re dealing with a bank or signing a contract any more. An e-signature takes care of the latter (just type your name), and nearly all bank transactions are electronic these days. The only check I write each month is to my landlord, and that’s only because he’s a Luddite.

I find I’m more of an anomaly these days because I do some of my writing in longhand. Notes are taken on index cards. First drafts go on yellow lined paper. Journal entries go in a leather-bound book, written with a fountain pen.

But more and more, the tech bug creeps into my life and I’m going more to the digital tools. Can’t remember when I last wrote a real letter, and I used to write some great ones. But everything’s by email now. If it wasn’t for my rent check and a few publishers who prefer hard copy when I’m pitching a story, I wouldn’t use the postal service at all.

I can’t rightly say I keep a paperless office, though I’m moving more that direction. A blessing, considering how I am with clutter. But the stacks of index cards and 5×8 legal-pad sheets lying around my desk bear proof that I still use paper and pen.

Reckon if you still write, you just might be a dinosaur.


Some other tidbits, from a study by Docmail, a British stationer. Read ’em and weep:


  • Four in ten Brits rely on predictive text and increasingly rely on it for their spelling, with one in four regularly using abbreviations or ‘text talk.’
  • LOL (laugh out loud), U (you) and FYI (for your information) are the most regularly used abbreviations.
  • Today, creating a shopping list, taking notes in a meeting or even wishing someone a happy birthday are more often done via electronic means.
  • One third said when they do write something down, they often struggle to read their own writing when coming back to it later on.
  • And nearly half (44 per cent) said that their scribing is neither nice nor easy to read.
  • One sixth of Brits don’t even think handwriting should still be taught in schools.
  • One in three Brits describe handwriting as ‘nice’ but not something they would want to do every day.

Do tell. When was the last time you wrote something out? Let me know in the comments.



Remembering old word processors, forgetting the new

… I found out the hard way that when you import an MS Word document into a pagination program like PageMaker, you need to strip out the formatting, the so-called “garbage characters.” Again, straight ASCII — saving it in a .txt format — is the best bet here. Plus, when you send a word-processing document by email, you’d better hope the recipient uses the same software as you …”

Check out more details in Hubpages, including my first time.






Does anybody still use snail mail?

My old pal Mr. Zip, from 1963. Does this postal veteran have long to live?

There’s talk about the U.S. Postal service cutting back, as the agency is bleeding money even faster than ever — as if anyone really expects a quasi-government function to pay its own way or something.

It wasn’t too long ago that the postal service was the only real way to send written communications, to transfer money, to receive a package. Maybe it’s creeping geezerhood, but I actually remember those days.

But now some cutbacks are under consideration. Possible scenarios include shutting down some 4,000 post offices or trimming the delivery schedule to just a few days a week. Shoot, if the postal service cuts back, none of the big-name, blue-chip companies are safe. Next we’ll be hearing that Kodak is going Tango Uniform …

… whoops, I forgot.

Like Kodak, the postal service provides a function that, while valued and appreciated, is losing ground to technology. Just as fewer people use film in their cameras these days (or develop that film like I used to), fewer people are really using mail delivery than before.

I’m hardly an example here. I’m one of those folks who will embrace technology but look longingly at the good old days. A high-tech Luddite. But as I examine my own use of the postal service, I can see why it’s losing its hiney.
In a few days I’ll need to swing by the post office and get a booklet of stamps. I usually get a dozen or 15 at a time, and that likely will last a year.

Most months I’ll send one item by mail: My rent check, and that’s only because my landlady is an even bigger Luddite than I am. Hard as I try, I can’t picture her huddled over a computer.

I might send a check to my business bank account via mail, but that’s only because I haven’t mastered the art of online bank transfers yet. Ironically, those instances where I use the postal service are the only times I’ll write a check — some archaic practices belong together.

As far as my other bills — electric, phone, Internet services — those are done online.

Strangely enough, it’s high tech that has me using the postal service more than I’d expect. Whan I order a book through Amazon, it still has to be shipped to me somehow. The cheapest, surest option is still the postal service.

A generation ago, doomsayers predicted the UPS/FedEx mix would kill the postal service, along with some of the vest-pocket courier outfits running around. Didn’t happen, but it didn’t help the mail system any. Further innovations like the FAX machine (does anybody still use those things) and email were likewise seen as a threat to USPS. Didn’t happen, but again didn’t help either.

In a bullfight, one can stick only so many swords, meat forks and Buck knives into the bull’s hide before it weakens and collapses.

Which begs the question: Who will get the ears of the USPS bull?

Or, would anybody really care once we adjust to the loss?


Talk to me: Do you still use snail mail? If the postal service was cut back like they’re talking, would you care? Use the comments section below.


Will smartphones trigger a pay phone comeback?

This relic may be coming back, thanks to your high-tech smartphone.

See related story: Android adjustments 2: Preserving battery life.

Cell phones killed the old pay-phone industry, and it appears they might be bringing the old communication icon back.

This may be good news for Clark Kent, who was reduced to finding an unoccupied men’s room to strip off his reporter’s duds and get into his Superman character. But the scuttlebutt is that pay phones may have a future again.

This backwards step comes as cell phones become more advanced and require more power to run them. Android units — which are king among the smartphone set — are particiularly power-hungry, and can suck your battery dry in just a few hours of heavy use.

Understand, this post is partly based on some stuff I’ve read on the net (always a dangerous thing) and partly from taking what I know and making some projections. There’s a lot of speculation here. Again, not the most sound journalistic practice, but I can still see this coming. As phones get smarter (though not necessarily the batteries), this becomes a logical conclusion.

Facebook synchronization and Web browsing will suck a battery dry fairly quickly, and the user is often reduced to some courses of action if he wishes to fire off a fast phone call:

  • Carry your AC adapter and pray you can find an unoccupied outlet somewhere.
  • Carry an extra, charged battery.
  • Make like Superman and find a pay phone.

So far, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence of a pay-phone resurgence, at least not in my neck of the woods. Although I understand pay phones are starting to come back in the larger cities, they’re as hard to find in the South Carolina Lowcountry as they’ve always been.

According to one of my spotters, Ted (the night mayor of Bonneau Beach, SC) his town has not a single pay phone. At all. Out there, cell reception is tricky, but it’s enough that you can at least get a signal.

So you may need to carry a few things when you travel with your Android phone:

  • AC adapter
  • Extra battery
  • Change for the pay phone. Most still take quarters.

Or maybe (shameless plug) just read my piece on preserving Android battery life, in my Random Hacks blog. You might learn something.


Talk to me: Have you ever thought you’d ever use a pay phone again? Don’t you wish one was around when your smart phone battery ran out?


New car anti-theft device reads your, uh, caboose

I guess butt prints are something like fingerprints; no two alike. At least that’s what a Japanese outfit is banking on.

It seems the R&D guys are testing an anti-theft device that can tell if the right person is driving the car by seat pressure alone.

This device apparently gauges body weight, and some 256 sensors get a handle on the contours of your, well, tail section.

Pretty ingenious. But I’m curious how well this anti-theft device would do in the States, amid a fast-food culture where the widths of many butts are measured by ax handles.The device might not make it through a 60-day warranty.

At least the car would know if it’s my skinny butt in the driver’s seat, or someone else’s.

Here’s the link, from Slashdot:



Great jobs for …

This definitely makes for light bathroom reading.

I saw this in the carrel next to me today at the Trident Technical College library, the place which is also known as “my occasional office.”

Gutsy title for the book, “Great Jobs For Film Majors.” Uhh, last I looked, the so-called great jobs are the kind where you ask … c’mon, say it with me now … “Do you want fries with that?”

The book underneath, “Filmmakers and Financing,” is not a whole lot bigger, which may also say something.

Considering this tome was written in 2004 when times were relatively flush, and it likely carries its usual share of academic bloviation and horse dung, that’s still a mighty thin book.






Mark your calendar: Asteroid strike on agenda in 2182

H’mmm … from the look of things, what I write today will make absolutely no difference to anybody in about 172 years.
Good to know. I guess I can stir things up without worry. – Scientist Warns Massive Asteroid Could Hit Earth in 2182


Survey: A majority of phone users have ditched the landline

Found this in Consumerist, and it gives an idea of how the times are a-changing. In an informal, admittedly nonscientific poll, more than half of respondents said they no longer have one of those home phones that comes with wires. Not even a cordless phone.

Cell phones have taken over.

Do You Still Use Your Land Line?

According to a recently released study, there are more than 5 billion cell phones in use around the world today, with 20% of those just coming into use in the last 18 months. More and more, people are either ditching their traditional land lines or relegating it to a secondary role, especially in large metropolitan areas.

A few months ago, when we polled readers on whether or not they still needed their physical White Pages phone book anymore, an overwhelming number of respondents voted ‘no.’

So, in the interest of pseudo-science, we now want to know just how frequently you use your land line compared to your mobile — or if you even have a land line at all anymore.

Take the survey: How Frequently Do You Use Your Land Line?

Over 5 billion mobile phone connections worldwide [BBC]

Of course, I had to take this survey, and as soon as I put my answer in I grabbed the results:

In all, 4,479 people voted in this poll.

– It’s my main mode of telephonic communication — 14 percent (643).

– As frequently as I use my cell phone — 11 percent (499 votes).

– My cell is the main phone, but I use the land line on occasion — 23 percent (1,010 votes).

– What’s a land line? — 52 percent (2,327 votes).

By the way, I am one of those who does not have a land line. Got rid of it seven or eight years ago, after realizing the only calls I got on it were telemarketers. My parents thought that was funny, and they thought it was even funnier that their attorney uses a cell phone for home and office use.

Landlines? We don’t need no steenkin’ landlines.

(By the way, I still keep a current phone directory in my office. Can’t remember when I last used the white pages, though.)



1995: Internet replace stores, books? You’re kidding!

An Internet store? Never happen. (Image from

Here’s a blast from the past:

Back in 1995, the Internet was the Big New Thing. Folks were getting used to the idea that you can go to any library anywhere, “talk” to anyone, and experience some of the world without ever leaving your seat.

But to Clifford Stoll, it was just a fad. He offered his views in Newsweek early that year, saying that while the Internet was pretty cool, it wouldn’t really catch on or be truly useful.

Stoll said:

“Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Stoll wasn’t a technophobe. He’d been involved in the online world from the jump. Helped track down some computer crackers who stole military secrets and sold them to the KGB. And he has a little online business going now.

But back then, he knew computers would not replace books or newspapers. He knew it. Check it out:

“How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.”

He said ecommerce wouldn’t work all that well because, well, there’s little human contact involved. Same thing with the rest of the Internet — takes away that eyeball-to-eyeball. It’s that same dynamic that author John Naisbitt pointed out in the 1982 book Megatrends — that push-pull between high-tech and high-touch. 

Less than two decades after Naisbitt’s book, and about five years after Stoll’s predictions, high tech won the war.

Still, take a look at Stoll’s Newsweek article. While you’re about it, read the comments. The whole thing is a hoot. 


Link: Clifford Stoll’s Web site.


Obsolete Anonymous: Who’s next to join?

I saw this in the Huffington Post, and man, does it make me feel ancient!

J.A. Konrath: Is Print Dead?: “

Moderator: Welcome to Obsolete Anonymous! I’ve gathered you all here to welcome our latest member, the Print Industry.

Print Industry: Hello, everyone. But there’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here.

(chuckles all around)

Print Industry: I’m serious. I’m not obsolete. I’m relevant. Print books have been around for hundreds of years. They’re never going to be replaced.

VHS Tapes: Yeah, we all thought like that once.

LP Records: It’s called denial. It’s tough to deal with at first.

Print Industry: Look, everyone, I assume you all think that ebooks are going to put me out of business. But that won’t happen.

Phone Company: I remember when you couldn’t walk twenty yards in a city without seeing a pay phone. Then those gosh darn cell phones came along. Do you know some people don’t even have land lines anymore?

(Phone Company begins to cry. Print Phonebooks joins in. So does Dial Up Modems. Encyclopedia Set, wearing an I Hate Wikipedia T-Shirt, pops a few Prozac. A group hug ensues.)

Video Rental Store: What Phone Company is trying to say is that when a technology comes along that’s faster, easier, and cheaper, the old technology–and all the companies that supported it–tends to fade away.

Print Industry: Why are you here, Video Rental Store? There are a lot of you around.

CDs: There were record stores everywhere once.

Cassette Tapes: Hell yeah! They sold cassettes, too! Someone give me a high five!

(no one gives Cassette Tapes a high five)

Video Rental Store: Things looked good for a while. I had a decent run. Then I got hit by all sides. Netflix. On Demand. Tivo. YouTube. But the nail in the coffin came in the past two years. Hulu. Roku–which allows subscribers to stream video instantly. iTunes and Amazon offering movie downloads. Red Box, which rents DVDs for 99 cents and takes up no more space than a candy machine…

Print Industry: But ebooks are just a tiny percentage of the market. People have been reading print since Gutenberg. They won’t adapt to change that easily.

SLR Cameras: You’re correct. It takes a few years for people to fully embrace new technology. Some never do. Instant Cameras never replaced me.

Instant Cameras: Shut up, SLR. We both got our butts kicked by digital. How much film did you sell last year?

TV Antennas:
I’m still big in some third world countries!

Typewriter: The bottom line is; when technology improves, it becomes widely adopted. Me and Carbon Paper used to have a groovy thing going. I’d make the words, he would make the duplicates. Then Copy Machine got into the act, but he’s not doing well now either.

Copy Machine: Effing computers.

Dot Matrix Printer: Effing laser and inkjet. Doesn’t anyone else miss tearing off the perforated hole punches on the side of paper? Don’t they miss the feel and smell of that?

Fold-Out Paper Maps: I agree! Isn’t it fun to open up a big map while you’re driving, in hopes of figuring out where you are? Don’t you miss the old days before cars came equipped with GPS and no one ever used that upstart, MapQuest?

CDs: Effing internet. That’s the problem. Instant access to information and entertainment for the whole world. You guys want to talk about pirating and illegal downloads?

(everyone shouts out ‘no!’)

Moderator: We all read on JA Konrath’s blog that the way to fight piracy is with cost and convenience. Print Industry, are you lowering your prices and making it easier for customers to download your books?

Print Industry: Actually, we just raised prices on our ebooks.

(all-around sighs and head shaking)

Moderator: Well, far be it for you to learn from any of our mistakes. Are you making it easier at least?

Print Industry: Well, we’ve begun windowing titles, releasing them months after the hardcover comes out.

(collective head slapping)

Music Industry: Have you at least tried selling from your own site? I wish I’d done that. But then Apple came along…

Print Industry: Uh… no. We haven’t tried that. In fact, some ebooks–we’ll use JA Konrath as an example since he was mentioned–aren’t even available on all platforms and in all territories.

Moderator: What do you mean? Konrath’s ebooks are available all over the place.

Print Industry: Those are the ones he uploads himself. The ones of his that we sell are missing from several key markets, and have been for years. But it’s okay. We’re paying him much smaller royalties and jacking the prices up high so we can still make a profit. Besides, ebooks are a niche market. Ereading devices are dedicated and expensive.

Arcades: I used to be a thriving industry. Kids dropped millions of quarters in my thousands of locations. But then Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft made home arcade machines, and now people play their videogames on dedicated devices. It’s a multi-billion dollar business now, and I can only compete if I sell pizza and give out plastic trinkets to kids with the most foosball tickets. If people want the media, they buy the expensive device. Period.

Print Industry: None of you are listening to me. Print will always be around.

Newspaper Industry: Yeah! What he said!

Print Industry: Let’s not compare ourselves, okay Newspaper Industry? No offense.

Newspaper Industry:
None taken. Hey, maybe we can help each other. I’m selling advertising space for dirt cheap these days, and…

Print Industry: No thanks. No one reads you anymore. People get their news elsewhere.

Moderator: So why won’t people get their novels elsewhere as well?

(Print Industry stands up, pointing a finger around the room.)

Print Industry: Look, this isn’t about me. All of you guys have become irrelevant. Technology marched on, and you didn’t march with it. But that WILL NOT happen to me. There will always be bookstores, and dead tree books. We’ll continue to sell hardcovers at luxury prices, and pay artists 6% to 15% royalties on whatever list price WE deem appropriate. And the masses will buy our books BECAUSE WE SAID SO! WE SHALL NEVER BECOME OBSOLETE!!!

Buggy Whip Industry:
Amen, brother! That’s what I keep trying to tell these people!

CDs: (whispering to LPs) I give him six years, tops.

All of this begs the question: Who is next to join their ranks? My money is on DVDs, and they haven’t been around very long. I can hear ’em now: “&%$#@!! Blu-Ray!”