Digital Thank Yous & Handwriting Matters: Would Emily Post Pitch A Fit?

thank-you.jpgNothing like having kids for a reality check in the age of digital media…I said to my daughter, “Look, I’m no Emily Post, but a thank you note is appreciated no matter what age you are.”

“Emily WHO?” Yeah…I thought so…Right up there with ‘Dear Abby’ and other cultural references that fly over her head at lightening speed and make me feel like a tyrannosaurus…

Thank you notes are slowly vanishing like dodo birds into extinction just like handwritten correspondence cards, as keyboarding digital ditties represent a ‘greener incentive’ for customizable content.

No problem there I suppose, as long as kids acknowledge with appreciation in SOME manner, though I admit, I’m ‘old world’ and love seeing her sit down to write them by hand—Your thoughts here, readers?

Newsweek’s Raina Kelley wrote “The Writing on the Wall” about the demise of penmanship in a keyboard era, prompting internet guru danah boyd to add her two cents along with educators like Joanna Jacobs who feel that “fluid handwriting joins fluid mastery of phonics and fluid mastery of number facts as a key to learning.”

Hmn…well, admittedly, Dec. 26 USED to be the day I’d brave the 50-70% off Christmas card sales amidst the mass consumer frenzy to snag the funniest, or most elegant greeting cards to stash in the attic for the coming year. No more. I don’t even write the dang things as of my millennium resolution, I’m both glad and sad to say…

I’m one of those that can’t just ‘sign my name and call it a day’ in the card arena, seems like a colossal waste of trees and postage. I’m not great about form letters either…

Custom content is my middle name, so I’d painstakingly reminisce and hand-select just the ‘right’ card for so & so, and once I had a family, I found I was spending too much time writing the cards to others instead of experiencing the season in the present. That said, I used to LOVE the yearly tradition…

But now?

Truth be told, digital technology has glued me to the keyboard to the point that it has rendered my penmanship completely useless and illegible.

Seriously! No cop out here!

Between two broken fingers from a dog park rescue of a pitbull pup being beaten up by a shepherd last year, and a stiff, arthritic claw-fashioned fist that needs to squeeze a sponge just to make the dang thing work in the morning for my livelihood, I’d say my digital demise is readily apparent to all…

…And my true friends ‘get this’ and cut me some slack.

Handwriting matters have been a tug-o-war from teachers and parents alike, as some argue keyboarding is not the same as penmanship no matter what you do. I find the discourse enlightening.

What do YOU think? Weigh in here…

There’s no question there’s a digital demise from a handwriting/penmanship perspective, but is it being replaced by virtual intimacy at a different level?

Are people communicating more? Or less? Elegantly? Or crass comparison via shorthand?

I remember when I was a teen and adopted “calligraphy” as an artform…and now?

I couldn’t hold a pen to save myself…fascinating.

Digital technology has opened new doors and new horizons for so many…yet it’s bound to have shut some in the process.

What say you?

Where do we stand here, as a digital society, ‘shaping youth’ in so many forms and functions? —It’s fascinating to find our own take on the digital dilemmas…

Here’s to new horizons…back to family time.

Back soon….all the best, –a.



  1. steve richards says

    Interesting observations, Amy. For myself, I can say that digital correspondence has eased the burden of the task of sending and responding to holiday correspondence (and all correspondence for that matter) but has done next to nothing to increase the quality of that communication, at least yet. It just feels kinda “throw-away”, which it shouldn’t, since the sender and recipient are just the same people they always were, and the weight and importance of the communication is just the same too… What can be done? Well, I suppose we’ll just have to spend a bit of time with our digital missives, not necessarily to increase their cleverness and graphical eye-catchiness, but to make the content just as meaningful and heartfelt as if written by a loving hand. And why not? It is the same hands as always, and the same heart and the same mind, isn’t it? And speaking from the heart will always have weight, whether it’s digital or scrawl, or at least so I hope. Happy communications to all! -sr

  2. Hmn…I know what you mean by ‘throw away,’ there’s something to tactile on all fronts…but then again, some of my virtual friends (those that I know from working together but haven’t ‘met’ F2F yet) have become equal to ‘real life’ friends, when it comes to knowledge of self, similarities in pursuit and such…

    Apologies if I sound esoteric, but it does seem like digital missives need time and attention (and as you say, a ‘loving hand’ to speak from the heart and achieve the level of connectivity we all long for.)

    Digital missives don’t fit on a fireplace mantel to remind us of dear ones…and seeing someones scrawl, even cobbled up as a preschooler or aged parent brings comfort to the bones as well. But I DO feel the digital world is showing many of us that we’re slooooooowly becoming one in terms of global connectivity, as strangers become friends and ideas are shared openly.

  3. Even the internet has netiquette so why shouldn’t children learn manners in the real world. The carefully formed letters of Palmer and Zane-Blozer taught subliminally control of self and emotions. Control of movement to form the letters is most important. Once this is accomplished and the letters are formed without conscious thought there can be a free flow of active thought and ideas. Meanwhile good manners never hurt anybody.

  4. Yep, I agree…manners need embraced from the get-go…and it’s interesting reading about the correlations of control of movement, self and emotions…definitely makes sense. (explains some of the wild child penmanship and personality expressions when any parent walks through an open house at school…you can almost SEE the different personas come through by hand…as much as the content/storylines themselves!)

    I admit, to encourage my daughter to write snail mail thank yous, she picks her own ‘personalized’ stationery and such…but clearly, it’s becoming a push-pull since the digital world and rapid fire speed enables one to express yourself fast and often…

    I’ve tried the ol’ “doesn’t it feel good to get something in the mail” approach…but even kids’ party invitations and such have become happenstance as of late it seems, (talk about manners!—she’s been invited to events taking place the next day, very impromptu—sometimes just a verbal, ‘hey can you make it?)

    Soooooooo my guess is there is a digital evolution of casual vs. formal contact that is far-reaching in a variety of societal shifts…

  5. I am involved in a similar debate. As a parochial school student growing up, I had the most horrible longhand. Year after year I was given practice sheets to improve, but my script was always barely legible. By 7th grade, I adopted printing in all written assignments, and the teachers (begrudgingly) accepted it. Now, besides my signature (which would make a physician blush), I can’t write in longhand.

    This is a problem, as my 12 year old son thinks its perfectly acceptable to print everything!

    As for thank-yous, we send paper ones, but only a handful of Christmas cards.

  6. We just had a multi-generational whiteboard-n-marker duel and it was an AMAZING anthropology experiment.

    One would think cursive would be faster (in theory) because you don’t have to lift the pen, but kids have become remarkably adept at printing at rapid fire speed…(she actually skunked me, but her grandparents were floored at her lack of cursive training, which she was taught in 2nd grade, but hasn’t revisited much since then) My 84 year old dad was aghast at what passes for cursive for 7th grade now…

    Anyway, long story short, we turned it into a stopwatch and timer ‘on your mark, get set, go’ legibility game, and had three generations try to use cursive, then print, then do print vs. cursive by age/category, tossing in ‘block letter all caps style, too. Fascinating.

    My 12-year old tied in a dead heat with THREE diff. generations of adults penning in script…which either means she’s compensated her lack of penmanship to print like lightening, or all of the adults have devolved in longhand script. (probably both, actually…And of course keyboarding wasn’t factored in, or I coulda whupped ’em all) 😉 Kidding. Maybe not. My mom could tie me, I’m sure.

    Still, it was insightful seeing how cultural coding among generations has morphed over time…For example, when my “texting tween” was showing off her “texting terms” to decipher, her grandmother wrote a few blurbs in shorthand, to show THAT form of communication once upon a time…

    Then we talked about ‘deciphering’ variants, e.g. Shakespeare passages to see if SHE could figure them out…my mom began to write backwards (she’s talented in some wild ways) and also tossed in a language component, (Italian) to make the point that we’re all devolving on some levels and evolving on other ones…but I still can’t get over how fast she prints and how hard I had to work to get my penmanship back to hold my own in the game…

    In fact, some techie social media anthropologist actually told me teen thumbs are physically getting ‘longer’ and more agile to accommodate texting prowess…

    Think she was kidding? I’m not so sure…We’ll be taking those paper thank you notes with us on a mini-getaway tmrw. Back soon…A.

  7. My penmanship is completely illegible these days. It’s almost embarassing.
    But somehow I can still draw.

    I think kids will eventually find pencils and pens as archaic as quills.

  8. Could be…or at least very ‘retro’ used for fun vs. daily use…much like I did with my calligraphy pen fetish…Hard to say…

  9. Penmanship is quickly becoming the caviar of the writing world – it’s a luxury few can obtain but when presented with it, it makes you feel like you’re someone special. That’s the way I feel whenever I receive a handwritten note from a student or colleague.

  10. I really enjoy a phone call vs. a card. It gives me a moment to hear a voice I care for…Time to catch up on what’s going on in our lives. When I receive a card I appreciate the thank you, however, it means as much or more when they send an email or call I can respond back to both.

    Even though some days I receive several business calls, I love the voices of those I love and try very hard to make time for them. The thank you can be given in many ways..Lets stop expecting the traditional thank you and recognize they can come in other forms and mean as much …things change… cards and notes sometime may be part of our past.

    Dorothy from grammology
    remember to call gram

  11. Nick, I love that line…”caviar of the writing world” though I’ve never been one for fish eggs so I guess I’ll ‘think homemade culinary offerings’ or some equally delightful form of specialness that reminds me of the gift giver’s delectable gift of time and attention to detail! 😉 Love your site, btw. Readers…have a look see at the media literacy/content & links there!

    Dorothy, you’re one ‘hip grandma’ and as usual, a departure from the majority of the e-mails I’ve received in the ‘traditional thank yous instill good manners/evoke ‘good breeding’ (which always sounds like kids are littermates from the animal kingdom rather than information-processing emotional beings) So I appreciate your flexibility on the heartfelt protocol front…

    You’re right that a voice that’s not a ‘must do’ beats a rote thank you note that could pass for a ‘fill in the blank’ “thank you for the ____” type of kids’ correspondence in my book…

    AND I’ve received some unusual thank yous in technology beyond e-cards as well!

    How about a “webcam Skype thank you” from my NON-tech savvy bro in Colorado who showed me he was ‘learning’ and bridged the gap of time and space with ‘show and tell’ moments of real time integration!

    He panned the camera to show the feral cat curled up on the end of the bed which was a riot, since I was convinced the dang thing was part mountain lion or cougar the way it hissed and hunched at every passersby!

    So yes, you’re right, Dorothy…technology IS changing things, and there is no ‘right or wrong’ there is ‘heartfelt’ vs. ‘gratuitous’ in my mind.

    So remember kiddies, even a quick call to your gram that’s authentic and REAL is better than a sterile howdy do…

    Other interesting thank yous received by folks? Does anyone want to share what their own kids do or don’t do?

  12. Why wait until the end of the year before handwriting cards and notes? There are reasons to write notes of thanks and encouragement throughout the year. We will keep our handwriting legible if done on a regular basis. Regardless, I love receiving handwritten cards and notes even if they are difficult to read. Don’t let poor penmanship stop you.

    I do believe as younger generations are raised on communication methods such as email, text messaging, and instant messaging, there is less appreciation for handwritten notes by them. However, there are still many who do appreciate the effort. Consider the source before deciding to substitute technology for traditional methods.

  13. yep, Roger, as a writer who loves the tactile ’embossed’ and pretty notecard creations it’s hard to replace it w/a call or a ping…but I physically have chicken-scratch at this juncture, which I suppose could be viewed as a labor of love in itself, if I muscle through the scratch-n-scrawl…it’s just a hard sell on the productivity front, but your point is well taken…not everything is about ‘productivity’ it’s the difference between homemade cookies and store-bought, I suppose, on the TLC front.

    Still…I heartily believe the CONTENT is key to all…and yes, there will always be those who prefer to get a holiday card w/a signature to add to the basket vs. a meaningful call or techno blurb that’s more robust in content…I dunno…goes to the diff. strokes approach…

    And year-round? Absolutely agree! Manners aren’t seasonal. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  14. p.s. I’ll add that I just visited Roger’s ezine and blog above with a very poignant plea for positivity in handwritten notewriting…(clearly for sympathy cards, which we ALL agree upon, most certainly)

    Here’s his post called “The Power of Notes”

    And here are two recommendations of his in terms of books that helped him instill this as regular practice:

    * The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd
    * Business Notes: Writing Personal Notes That Build Professional Relationships by Florence Isaacs

  15. extraordinary ! No one goes that extra mile now days? Bravo ! Also one more tip you shouldinstitute a Translator for your Global Readers ..

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