A Lament for Lost Art Forms

In Amber Brewster’s post entitled “Communicating with Students”, she talks about handwritten notes.  I consider it to be something of a lost art form.

My friend and I have started writing letters to each other.  There’s something incredibly beautiful about putting pen to paper and seeing your words etched out in your own handwriting.  Then I think about poets and writers putting their thoughts and words on paper.  I love to see a “rough draft” of a poem or story with words and sections crossed out and marked up.  You can almost crawl inside the writer’s mind and see the process.  You can imagine him or her thinking, ‘No, this word doesn’t say it, this word is the right one!’ It’s another way to connect with the writer.

Borders announced it’s closing down.  It feels like a big loss to me.  I remember going there in high school.  Looking through the books, finding a new one to take home.  I remember hearing once that the only reason Barnes & Noble stayed open and made money was through their textbook sales.  How sad.  It makes me wonder if the majority of people really read.

Then I start to wonder if maybe technology could encourage a new generation of readers.  I think about what stops people from reading.  I grew up with a love of books because my family loved books. However, if my only experience had been having to read books I didn’t enjoy because it was required for school, I think my feelings would change.  Not only that but if I’d struggled to read because of a learning disorder.  We learned about text-to-speech in class the other week, and it seems like a great way to help students who struggle with reading.

So maybe there is hope for readers everywhere.

(I feel I should add that I do realize that I’m writing about the lost art form of putting pen to paper on an online blog.  I guess that’s just a result of this world I live in, somewhere on the cusp of the old and the new.)



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8 responses to “A Lament for Lost Art Forms

  1. I think one reason borders and similar stores have closed down is due to people ordering books online and people using devices such as the kindle and nook to read from. While I personally still prefer the feeling of a thick book in my hands, its understandable how having all your books on one device could be more convenient.

    • You know, Liz, you’re right, I completely forgot about that factor. I can definitely understand the appeal of portable ereaders, but I still love looking around at my favorite books, their spines cracked, notes in my own handwriting.

  2. Shannon, I totally agree with your sentiment about a hand written letter being akin to a lost art form. One of my greatest joys as a child was getting mail from my grandmother and then writing back.

    You make a really good point though, you say:

    “I love to see a “rough draft” of a poem or story with words and sections crossed out and marked up. You can almost crawl inside the writer’s mind and see the process.”

    I agree that it is a way to connect to the writer. It made me think of how when I am teaching a student I always wish I could crawl inside their brains and find out how it works or how they are thinking…especially when they are having trouble. If you can see the thinking, you can figure out how to re-route the thought process to get it back on track. When student teaching I often did writing conferences with students. When i looked at different drafts I could see the students thought process unfolding. I wonder how incorporating technology into the classroom affects the drafting process for both students and teachers? The great thing about computers is that drafting is quick and easy, you can copy and paste and use spell/grammar check. The great thing about paper is that you can see the changes in each draft, how it progressed, and all the things kids tried to erase or crossed out (much of which is GREAT!). I wonder if we are both losing and gaining something at the same time by engaging students in writing using computers?

    • Amanda, I’ve been wondering, too, how incorporating computers affects the drafting process. I feel like when I’m typing something, I think more about what I’m going to type. Whereas when I’m writing something down, sometimes I just write and worry about correcting it later. I wonder if the new generation, the “technology natives” (that’s the term Dr. Ransom used, right?” feel the same way.

  3. Stephen Ransom

    Don’t forget that many digital writing tools allow one to easily look back at all edits/changes/drafts… all in a single document. To me, this is a powerful thing… even to see the evolution of writing by the various Etherpad tools that allow one to play back that evolution as a video of sorts.

    But this notion of nostalgia that we hold for handwriting and physical books is a really interesting one. By no means do WE have to cease handwriting and reading physical books. It is still our choice. However, is it fair to force our feelings of nostalgia on new digital learners? Would that be similar to forcing my son to listen to my LPs and not download MP3s because I love the sound of the needle on the vinyl? I don’t know…

    For sure, the physical book is still a very popular form of media. It’s the dominant book media that my own children and most children still read from today. But I’m not sure for how long this will continue to be so. I suppose, when ebooks and ebook devices become ubiquitous, things may change. For me, I still enjoy having the physical book in my hands, but this is beginning to change. For professional books that I read, I have now pretty much chosen to download those in electronic format. It is so much easier to store them, annotate them, find my notes and annotations, and share them with others.

    • Dr. Ransom, I understand the comparison to LPs and MP3s, but I wonder if your son would enjoy listening the LPs. Maybe just because his dad enjoys them, maybe because he, too, likes the sound of the needle on the vinyl, maybe for his own reasons. There are things I’m still fond of because my Great Aunt was. She had a huge influence on me. There are a lot of things that she used that many people would consider “out of date”, but she found value in them, and I found value in them because I looked at them the way she did. In an age when you can make hot chocolate in a microwave, I still think it tastes better from the stove top.

  4. Stephen Ransom

    Who knows… since I have no nostalgia for my parents’ LPs to pass on to my own children. They are so annoying [to me], but I understand how and why some continue to love the sound that they produce. I was speaking more of forcing students to use one medium over another. They may well choose a more traditional one… and that would be fine.

    As for hot chocolate, the stovetop method is great, but taste is still in the mouths of the tasters. It is not something inherently part of food itself. A food’s appeal or revulsion is just as much part of experience as it is about the food itself… and experiences vary greatly, don’t they. This is partly why these issues can be so subjective. Had your great aunt made terrible stovetop hot chocolate (I’m assuming you shared hot chocolate with her) or had you had a poor relationship with her, you’d may very well lean toward the hot water/instant method. Who knows. It can be hard not to introduce bias in the choices that we give our children, our students, and others, can’t it.

    By the way, I love toe stove top hot chocolate, too 😉

    • I know you were talking about forcing students to use one method over another. How that can cause negative connotations. I’m saying it’s sad that there are certain things that kids will never be exposed to. It’s like when you hear about the death of the last person who speaks a language. All that can be lost because of it.

      And I understand exactly what you’re saying about food. I was the one who made the hot chocolate. Part of it is the ritual of it, making it for somebody I loved.

      Yes, it is difficult not to introduce bias. I find myself doing that when I pick up books for kids. I think, ‘Ooh, I loved that book!’ It’s definitely something to be aware of.

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