Friday, January 18, 2013

Write On Dude

Another entry in the occasional series about lettering, this post was prompted by a particular phase in the purging process (see previous post), where I finally let go of the many cases of cassette tapes piled up in storage. Maybe around 50% of them were rips, and half of those were mix compilations. Above and beyond the obsolete medium, and the countless hours spent getting the mix just right, it occurred to me how much of an archaic skill it was to be able to write down all that information (song title + band name) in a space only 3/16’ths of an inch wide. No wonder that this particular ability was so readily transferable to lettering comics. It’s a theory that will be borne out after studying what, if any, impact the relative ease of mp3 technology in transferring sound files will have upon the comic industry (not withstanding the Ames Guide or computer fonts). 

Which dovetails with this interesting aspect of graphic literacy, and what might be in danger of getting lost as society shifts increasingly more into using digital technology:
“Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre in Norway has extensively researched the importance of writing with a pen. According to Mangen, writing by hand gives the brain feedback for motor skills. The touching of a pencil and paper ignites the senses. Mangen, along with a neurologist in France, found that different parts of the brain are activated when children read letters learned by handwriting.”
This is a potential issue that transcends the aesthetics of infusing characters with the look of an authentic, hand- made effort that imparts some degree of humanity, as opposed to impersonal, mechanized font that lacks any creativity, individuality or flavor. Turns out there is a crucial difference between writing letters by hand versus typing the characters out with a keyboard - it’s a matter of the physicality of the act itself, and what’s happening to the writers mind in the meantime and how it in turn affects the wiring of the brain itself. Or put a different way: “During the act of writing, then, there is a strong relation between the cognitive processing and the sensorimotor interaction with the physical device.”
“Moreover handwriting takes place in a very limited space, literally, at the endpoint of the pen, where ink flows out of the pen. The attention of the writer is concentrated onto this particular point in space and time. By comparison, typewriting is divided into two distinct spaces: the motor space, e.g., the keyboard, where the writer acts, and the visual space, e.g., the screen, where the writer perceives the results of his inscription process. Hence, attention is continuously oscillating between these two spatiotemporally distinct spaces which are, by contrast, conjoined in handwriting.”
All that said, I still held onto a couple tapes made from some late-night sessions in an early basement studio, where friends would stop by to hang out and practice jamming on their guitars while I sat across the room drawing away at the drafting table. Listening to the recordings after so many intervening years reminds me of how underneath the casual camaraderie was a current of intensity, focus and study: regardless of the instrument, the doodling and noodling was the process of experimentation and practice.

Update: Steve over at What Do I Know recently put up a related post touching upon some of the same concerns about the atrophying skill of handwriting, following from an NPR feature on Weekend Edition that interviewed an author about "The Missing Ink," and he juxtaposes the piece with a lecture by a practitioner of Chinese calligraphy.

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