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.


If you’re a fugitive sex offender, watching porn at McDonald’s will probably put you back in jail

But at least the wireless connection was free. Folks, I can’t make stuff like this up.

Who pays attention to endorsements anyway?

A good friend of mine mentioned recently that a couple of legislators we both admire — Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Tim Scott — so far are laying off on endorsing anybody in the Presidential primaries. My friend says it’s a good thing; we don’t need to form yet another bandwagon in this campaign. There are enough of those already, thank you.

My initial choice in the Republican primaries, Herman Cain, threw a major screwball in giving his endorsement. Hey, he’s having too much fun right right now, making the politico-comedic scene with Steve Colbert, to be messing with the campaign lunacy.

A candidate with half a brain (I understand that is a requirement to run for office in some states) would covet the nod from a DeMint, a Cain, or even the freshman Scott.

Politicians are funny about endorsements. When I edited a weekly paper in Arizona, a City Councilman kept bugging me about it during the election season. Somehow or other he got the idea I set the policy there — that privilege usually goes to the guy who buys all that paper and ink, and it sure wasn’t me. But the owner and I were on the same page there, so I got to make the endorsements.

In truth, though, I can’t tell you who really pays attention to those endorsements.

OK, I lied. Maybe I can:

  • The candidates themselves.
  • The ones making the endorsements.
  • The drones.

Of course the candidates are interested in endorsements. They’re in a volatile business, and their fortunes are dictated by public opinion. They’re always checking the wind. A good endorsement from a fellow politician (why did I say wind?) shows the candidate he may be on the right track and wowing the right crowd. And a media endorsement is good, too. As laughably ineffectual as the mainstream media is these days, they still have enough muscle to set policy.

The endorser also has an interest here. To a politician making an endorsement, it can be genuine respect, the making of an alliance somewhere along the line, or a favor to be called later. Like it or not, horse trading is still a big part of politics. And a news outlet has thousands of advertising dollars riding on an endorsement — not just in the political season, but after the votes are counted and the signs torn down.

But that’s small stuff. Why did I mention the drones?

The drone factor is important here. Off the election results over the past couple of decades, they may be in the majority by now. More likely they already are; they only recently discovered voting.

I’d have no problem if these drones (y’all know who you are) merely retired in front of the television, watched the newest hottest reality show, kept up with the celeb du jour, got their news from the National Enquirer or TMZ, and left the voting to those who actually care.

The drones pay attention to such stuff as endorsements, and are more likely to base their vote from an endorsement than a person who actually engages his brain every once in a while.

Here’s the straight stuff: If I vote a certain way because my favorite movie actor or athlete says so, I’m a drone.

If I vote for someone because my union/teacher/boss/spouse/authority-figure-of-choice votes a certain way, I’m another drone.  Taking advice from someone you respect is one thing, but giving that authority figure the pink slip to your vote is something else entirely.

If I vote with an eye toward what I would get out of it and screw the rest of the country, I’m the worst kind of drone.


Stay home.

Go away.

Better to handle sharp objects than a ballot.

Oh, yes. That newspaper owner I actually saw eye to eye with on endorsements: We both agreed that to make an endorsement was to insult the voter’s intelligence. I did have the privilige of writing the editorial containing our endorsements, too. After listening to all the candidates bugging me for months and stringing them along a little bit, I wrote something like this:

“Here are our recommendations on how you should vote: Make sure the paper ballot is right side up before you punch out your choices.”

Fun days. But my boss wouldn’t let me write anything urging the drones to stay home.

Oh, well. There’s always this election.



Crime o’the day: The butt-dial did it

Ever accidentally butt-dial someone?

You know what I mean. I’m talking about hitting a key on your cell phone when it’s in your pocket. The person on the other end usually gets a swishing sound and maybe a muffled voice. To the butt-dialee (or pocket-dialee) it sounds very much like someone’s phone is being flushed.

Before cell phones, butt-dialing didn’t exist. Now it’s, well, not a national problem, but close.

This group in Wisconsin was in the middle of a crime spree and the guys were discussing how they would sell off the loot when one of them butt-dialed (facepalm) 911. And the dispatcher listened in as they plotted their next move (double facepalm).

Easy arrest.

Check out the story, in Consumerist.

And watch out who you butt-dial.


With Black Friday, it’s all in the planning

Shoppers approach your local Stuffmart for Black Friday. Or something.

They’re camping out in front of their destinations already, days in advance. They’re working in teams, with each person having his or her own role in the effort. Getaway drivers, the works.

Terrorists? No.

Bank robbers? No.

Occupiers gone bad? Again, no.

They’re shoppers, positioning themselves to get the most stuff and the sweetest deals for Black Friday.

Actually, now it’s Black Thursday, with store hours creeping back into Thanksgiving, one of the few real holidays we have left, thereby diluting the meaning even more. But that’s another rant for another day.

Out in my neck of the woods, the WalMart will open at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving, while Toys R Us throws its doors open an hour before that, ready to grab some of that Christmas mammon.

Retailers bank on a strong Black Friday. A solid one usually means a good Christmas shopping season. I don’t have any statistics to back me up (although everyone else just makes ’em up anyway), but a solid Christmas season often makes the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable year — especially these days, with the economy being so bad. So you can’t blame the retail industry for trying; those folks gotta eat too.

But every year there’s always one or two items that are heavily hyped, with a buzz that you can feel. There may even be a deep discount added (or not; good hype will often obscure the fact that something is vastly overpriced), and there you go. Although I pay attention to trends, I have no idea what the flagship toy is this year. It’s probably something electronic.

A few years ago, some friends and I plotted out our own Black Friday assault. It was all in fun and definitely fueled by an overdose of turkey and stuffing (deadly stuff, that tryptophan). But we had it all worked out:

  • Two or three mechanics fanning out in the store, working prearranged patterns.
  • I’d have the van running, circling the front half of the parking lot, pushing buggies out of the way if necessary.
  • Our communications guy, dressed in black, would ride shotgun and keep everything together via cell phone and radio.
  • Our tail gunner, also dressed in black, likewise in position. I had some reservations about this guy; he volunteered for the position and seemed just a little too eager.

The plans didn’t come off. It takes a lot more recon to work a proper Black Friday assault, and it helps to have a man on the inside.

Besides, I don’t do crowds. If I must operate in total chaos, let it be of my own making. I’ll do my shopping online, thank you.



Citizen journalism to rule in ’12: A good thing?

The 2012 election may be the first one to be covered primarily by citizen-journalists, though whether that is a good thing is a tough call.

This development is expected, really. By the last presidential election, the mainstream media had deprecated to the point where any real journalism coming out was purely accidental, and the 2008 winner, Barack Obama, escaped the scrutiny that candidates usually get. Thanks in part to the dying press and the babbling electronic media, Americans elected someone with no discernible background. Might as well have chosen The Unknown Candidate, complete with the paper sack over his head.

This news dynamic changed even more — devolved, perhaps — since then, with velocity being the order of the day. Well, that’s always been an issue in news gathering as the media outlet that breaks the story gets the bragging rights. But in 21st Century America that lead time is cut to seconds instead of hours. We now have news as it happens, or more frequently news as it doesn’t happen. Could this be the dynamic that shapes coverage in the 2012 election?

It’s not 2012 yet. It’s not the primary season yet, not even the pre-primaries. But in the pre-pre-primaries we’ve already had enough drama to stock a whole campaign. Try a dozen debates already between Republican candidates, and at least a dozen more to come. It seems every special interest group has a debate or forum of its own, and already some very promising candidates rode the roller coaster:

  • Mitt Romney starts with frontrunner status. Herman Cain shows strength in some debates, becomes the one who can beat Obama. Rick Perry sneaks in from the south entrance with strong conservative ties. Sarah Palin bows out early, before she even gets in.
  • Cain and Perry propose specific tax plans.
  • Perry shows poorly in a debate.
  • Cain is the new frontrunner.
  • Cain is accused of sexual harassment, which could be anything from grabbing a touchie/feelie to holding a door open for a female coworker. Cain accuses the Perry camp for this, and takes a tumble in the polls.
  • Perry has the mother of all brain farts in another debate, something like 40 seconds of dead air time. By rights it should kill his campaign except that the others are trying to kill their own faster, more thoroughly.
  • Now Newt Gingrich, who hadn’t been relevant all century, is looking like he could be a front runner, if you can believe that.

Got all that?

Mind you, it’s not even 2012 yet. It’s still the pre-pre-primary.

Between the usual online news suspects and the bloggers, tweeters, user-generated news outlets, and social media dispatches, there shouldn’t be any great mystery about any of the candidates. Not this time.

By the time voters start casting ballots for real in the primaries, we should know everything about everyone running. We’ll know who was born here, we’ll know how each one did in school, and we might even know where each candidate is coming from politically. All will be throughly vetted. The trick, then, is for the thinking voter to separate the news from the nonsense, not likely to be an easy task when citizen-journalists rule public discourse.

Anytime the media is user-driven — or to put it more inelegantly, run by the rabble — there’s always a danger of being overcome by a flood of nonsensical information. It will reflect our society, which is more interested in Dancing With The Stars than real-live flesh-and-blood issues.

It’ll be interesting to see if anyone still cares, or is even awake for the presidential campaign during the primaries and general election, when it counts.




With tricycle helmets, it’s a gutless new world

Looks cool, but probably won't survive those head-on tricycle crashes

There’s an email that makes the rounds among us geezers, reminding us that we drank from the neighbor’s garden hose, rode bicycles without helmets, and lived to spawn children.

But in 21st Century America it’s a — not a brave new world, but a gutless new world.

I thought of my wild dangerous reckless youth when I saw this press release on tricycle safety. This release pushes the idea that children should wear their helmets while riding their three-wheelers. I’m not kidding. It’s from

“Children also learn that tumbles sometimes happen, which is why we always recommend helmets,” the release advises. “Even if your child never takes a spill on their tricycle, wearing a helmet at this stage gets your child used to wearing one and establishes the habit as they get older. In fact, sometimes they’ll even start reminding you to wear yours.”

Gee, thanks a pantload.

Checking the website further, I see Tricicle Kids is selling some really cool helmets that are clearly designed for kids not old enough to ride a real bicycle. There’s a SpongeBob version, and there’s one with bunny ears. I have a feeling they’re not really designed to withstand head-on crashes at full speed with another tricyclist or a wall, but our kids are not supposed to do those things any more. Remember?

My immediate thought as I was reading all of this: Are we that wussified that we need to protect our kids from all potential evil, like the boy in the bubble?

Reckon so. Part of this is from our litigation-happy society, where even the slightest injury or mishap gets reported to a gang of trial lawyers, who pick that up and run with it. But there’s more to it than that.

Befitting our softening society where competition is discouraged, youngsters play organized T-ball without keeping score, and I hear occasional scuttlebutt from whiny parents about how the school grading system is unfair because some kids will fail. Classroom bullying — a staple of growing up — is now tantamount to a hate crime. All of this is really bad news, and if the Japanese and Chinese kick our butts you can blame a society that teaches its children that they’re not allowed to kick back.

Think about it. If a kid catches a splinter from a favorite toy — even if he gets it from sheer stupidity — some parent group somewhere will be howling to take that toy off the market. Whatever happened to just sucking it up?

Confessions of a baby boomer

When I was a youngster getting around on a bike, helmets were not yet available for bicycle riders. No one thought of it. The only helmets around were for football players, coal miners, and motorcycle riders. As bicycle helmets became available and eventually fashionable, I never bit on it. To this day I’ve never worn one.

At age 53, I still ride a bicycle everywhere, and still without a helmet. I know I’m taking a chance with this disclosure; my mom is one of my subscribers and I guarantee she’ll write back and ask me about bicycle helmets.

But she’s not being overprotective here. Well, maybe a little. But she knows my track record.

As a kid I was always reckless and a trifle uncoordinated. If bicycle helmets were around back then, Mom would have made me put it on whenever I threw my leg over the bike. In fact, knowing my recklessness, she probably would have insisted I wear a helmet even when walking around.

That’s probably why I never got into skateboarding. I was given one as a present, got on it, promptly dumped myself on my wallet, hit the pavement, and never saw that skateboard again. I guess what with my track record and general craziness a skateboard was considered a lethal weapon.

Street baseball and match races

But like all the other kids in my neighborhood, I did my share of daring stuff. Like drag racing on two wheels. Mom’s and Dad’s house is on this cul-de-sac with a decent incline dropping down from the main road, and you can get some good speed from that. About a third of the way down — right about where my house was — there was this nifty curve. At the end of the street the pavement widened out into a circle, big enough for a car to turn around easily, and big enough for those baseball games on the street. The bases were spray-painted on the asphalt. Our right fielder had two additional jobs — a) saving our only ball from rolling down the sewer or landing in the front yard of our evil neighbors that allegedly cooked and ate children, and b) watching for traffic; yelling “CAR!” when need be. Kind of a primitive ball field, and sliding headfirst into second base was not a real good idea. I know because I tried.

Eventually we moved our ball games to a neighbor’s property. These neighbors had horses, and we turned one of the fields — where they exercised the horses — into our ball park. Much nicer surroundings, no cars sewers to worry about, but headfirst slides were still not recommended.

But the street made a great drag-racing course, either on bicycle or in that old red Radio Flyer wagon we had. The wagon was a rough ride. It’s hard to navigate that curve without dumping the wagon, and it had no brakes anyway. The only way to stop was to stick out your feet, or dump the wagon on that curve. You just can’t make that sexy squealing coaster-brake stop leaving those oh-so-cool lines of smoking rubber on the pavement with a Radio Flyer. But we had our share of blood challenges and match races on that street with wagon, roller skates, skateboards, or what have you. All without helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, chest protectors, or face masks.

Flesh wounds were common, but a blast of Bactine or, even better, that red Merthiolate made everything better.

Plaster used to be cool

Back in grade school, a boy wearing a cast was almost a status symbol, as long as he earned it in a real act of derring-do — such as riding his bicycle down that 100-foot cliff at the end of the street. My first plaster was earned in junior high school, when I broke my hand while taking a swing at my brother. Mom merely rolled her eyes and contemplated locking me in the closet until my 40th birthday or when I hit maturity, whichever occurred first.

Given how dangerous my childhood was when looked at through today’s standards, I’m happy to report that I did survive without being locked in the closet. Rumor has it that I did mature, but sometimes I kind of doubt it. Still on the bike sans helmet, still engaging in adrenaline-driven pastimes (though a recent foot injury sidelined me from a planned Appalachian Trail hike), still living dangerously.

But I finally figured out that sliding into second base on asphalt is not a real good idea. I guess that’s a sign of maturity.



Yet another way to leave your lover

Let me get this straight:

So this guy in Colorado Springs had a bit of a situation. His girlfriend showed up at his apartment at about the same time as some gal he’d met through Craigslist.

Now most guys in that situation would either lose it, drop to his knees and confess all, hoping the girlfriend never heard of Lorena Bobbitt. Or more likely, try to whip up some totally unbelievable lie and hope it would fly.

But not this charmer.

He got on the phone and called the police and said they’d better come over quickly; there’s a burglary in progress.

According to the Denver Post (amazingly they’re still around), the cops didn’t buy his story for very long. He was handcuffed, taken into custody, and charged with filing a false report.

In the news account, there’s no word about whether the girlfriend bought the guy’s story. Hope not, but you never know about such things.

At least give him points for creativity, or at least a king-sized pair of … something. You’ve got to. But pond scum is still pond scum, and often pond-scumminess knows no bounds.

Like they used to say out west, a scorpion in a jar is still a scorpion.



You robs the joint, you takes your chances: Part II

Some folks are never satisfied at their pay after a hard day’s work:

Unhappy robber: Gunman calls restaurant to gripe |

A man who robbed a Wendy’s at gunpoint Saturday night apparently was so upset with his haul that he twice called the restaurant to complain, Atlanta police said.

“Next time there better be more than $586,” he said during one call. He made “a similar threat” in the second call, police said.

My first thought is, why is there so much cash in the till? Most stores have a policy where employees regularly drop any extra cash in the safe.
At least the guy didn’t come by to complain, especially while the police were there.

Unnatural selection: Alcohol and trains don’t mix

Folks, I can’t make this stuff up.
This is from Summerville, a town just a few miles down the road from me.

Man dies after attempting to ‘slap the train’ outside bar: “A Summerville man celebrating his 23rd birthday died early this morning after he apparently tried to “slap the train” running past a local bar and was sucked into it.