Last week I learnt that yet another nail has been banged into the coffin of human society as we currently know it. The thin end of a very big wedge has just been inserted into the way we communicate. Old farts such as myself fear this one will bring us a step closer to utter dysfunctionality as human beings.
The Finns have just decided to drop learning how to write from the school curriculum (The Week, August 13th). No doubt this will be replaced with touch typing skills, and the extra talented 7 year olds will be given additional extra curricular texting skills to equip them for even more effective communication.
This decision is the equivalent of giving up walking because you have learnt to drive.
I presume the next logical step after this will be to stop teaching them how to spell. No doubt our gadgets will soon be taking predictive texting to a new level and we will only need to insert the first letter of a word for our device to fill in the rest. Some pretty much do that now anyway.
These kids won’t be taught how to hold a pen, and a signature will not be required for anything (you’ll just flash an eyeball towards the item in question and it will do the rest). The love letter, the hand written thank you letter, the Christmas card with the personal greeting: all are headed for the dustbin of extinct communication vehicles. Some would argue they are already in it. As The Independent comments: “It takes a little effort, but writing is the nearest most of us get to an artistic gesture.” Now we can forget artistic, think austistic.
This makes me a little gloomy. In my own lifetime I have seen computers emerge from the mist and start to dominate our lives, and I reckon that by the time I expire they will have started to exercise a truly malign influence on human relationships. We are already seeing it, and the pace of the takeover is going to accelerate inexorably.
Are we powerless in the face of this threat? I think not. We need to fight our own corner, encouraging a microclimate of real life human interactions wherever we can. We should heed the words of poet Dylan Thomas, and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
A few months ago I felt a need to tell the CEO of a huge American technical company what I had learnt about his company’s culture from working with his people for 15 years. I thought long and hard about how best to get his attention, and make my message to him more memorable and impactful. Eventually I wrote him a letter, using a fountain pen, on some high quality writing paper. It took me several goes to write neatly enough from him to read it, and to not have any “typos”. It’s funny how quickly our basic skills erode when we don’t use them. He didn’t reply (a month later he announced he was stepping down as CEO, so maybe he had other things on his mind), so I don’t know whether he ever got to read it. But at least I felt I had given it my best shot.
So pick up your pen and do your bit to fight this off, people! Our kids deserve better than this.