Is anyone else bothered by the way things are no longer put down on paper? Will historians, a hundred years from now, be reduced to scrolling through neatly stored and categorised emails spell checked and eminently readable, instead of sifting through unruly piles of letters, documents, and diaries? Have we forever lost the excitement of musty discoveries in Manila folders? Will there be no more deciphering of the crabbed and crooked, the lyrical and cursive?
Of course, we will have what we already have, and thank goodness for the preservation of those documents technology affords us but, what about the record of ourselves and our lives? Where will the mess we make, the greatness and the mundane be recorded? How often do any of us ever write anything with pen and paper?
There are a mood and conversation in the handwritten which brings the writer to life in a way typeface, no matter how carefully chosen the font, cannot. We just know that tiny hard-slanted writing was made by someone of serious mind and intention, bent over the laboured page, elbow akimbo. That large, raucous looping of letters across the page was surely made by a raconteur of the first order, balloon of brandy in one hand, pen brandished in the other, a smudge at the edge from the ash of cigar. The ordered upright hand of the clerk in a menswear establishment wishing his client, all satisfaction in his most excellent purchase. The wavering spidery hand of the elderly aunt with her best wishes, news of the weather and unrequested wisdom of life.
Who hasn’t pondered the mystery of the scribbled-out line? Heads and toes of letters poking out from their thick blanket of ink. Almost readable but just not quite. What was the writer saying there? An unpalatable truth, thought better of as soon as written? An awkward phrasing? The secret we’ve been searching for, the missing piece of a puzzle, now beyond reach?
Handwritten documents inflect something of the writer’s mood in a tangible way unattainable by typeface, especially the really old ones done with quill or fountain pen. Blotches, underlines, the pressure of nib to paper all indicate temperament even when the words say something quite different. In print the writer’s only defence is wit and skill with words, lacking the visual cue of handwriting styles.
Emails, in particular, seem mostly blunt and hurried, a missive of instruction or request. A demand signed off with quick Regards. Little room there for the wandering muse, ponderings, the leisurely exchange of pleasantry and ideas. No intricate embossed letterheads, works of art in themselves. No more decorative letter openers. And those thick creamy envelopes and foreign stamps…what has happened to the envelope makers of the world? What do kids do on rainy days without stamps to soak and peel?
The storage of paper documents has always been a nebulous thing, adding to the rarity and presence of those pieces which manage to survive fire, flood, pestilence, war, and human carelessness. Electronic storage, the cloud, wherever it is, they tell me is safe and permanent. Everything can now be stored safely and permanently. Everything? Small comfort this to the future historian forced to wade through millions of electronically bland communications informing them of meeting times, overdue bills and ‘How r u’s’ in the hope of finding something that was worth storing carefully in the first place.
No doubt a tree would argue my position, were they able to converse. Why they might say, should we give our lives over to your random scribbles? Long live the cloud we say. What use is any of you without our standing green battalions? Good question. I’ll have to think deeply about the implications. Perhaps if you put it down on paper, in a letter…..and send it on.
Leslie Thiele loves reading books and writing stories. Sometimes she gets mixed up and scribbles ideas in the margins. Her short fiction has been commended and shortlisted in various competitions, and sometimes they have even won! Leslie studies writing at Bunbury’s ECU campus and has learnt more there about a writers craft than she ever managed by herself. Her prize winning story, ‘Harbour Lights’, will be published in Joiner Bay and other stories, the anthology of the 2017 Margaret River Short Story Competition.