Deciphering the World's Writing

The entry of computers has robbed the world of penmanship. Who cares about cursive writing when two-finger typing gets the communication job?

Published: 06th July 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th July 2014 12:31 AM   |  A+A-

Was there ever a time when man wasn’t trying to get under the skin of his neighbour, trying to figure out what makes her, or him, tick? Over centuries, clues have sought to be drawn from zodiac signs, favourite colour, body language, even blood group (if one lives in Japan or Korea).

Back when we were young, we had another tool to fall back on: graphology, aka handwriting analysis. We spent hours poring over letters and notebooks of boyfriends or rivals in class, even teachers, studying the way they crafted their letters and words. Manuals told us handwriting could indicate over 5,000 personality traits. We wanted to crack them all. The basics were simple: if the writing slanted to the right, the subject was outgoing and liked to socialize. To the left, and he liked to walk alone. A ramrod straight hand indicated a logical, practical mind that was guarded with its emotions. Large letters were a sign of a flamboyant personality. Small letters were the mark of an introspective, shy person. Round Ss made one a people-pleaser, seeking compromise and avoiding confrontation.  Sharp-edged, and the subject liked to be challenged intellectually. And so the analysis went on.

The advent of computers and keyboards robbed us of the old pleasure. Few of us today know what even our cubicle partner’s handwriting looks like. He probably doesn’t remember it himself. Who cares about cursive writing when two-finger typing gets the communication job done? 

This despite the fact that there’s a strong connect between handwriting and idea generation. Scientists say penmanship triggers activity in the parts of the brain that are responsible for reading and comprehension. After all, it is a graphomotor activity that combines cognitive, perceptual and motor skills.

Fortunately, someone still cares, and doesn’t want the old skills to die out (even if it’s for a vested interest). BIC, the maker of the ubiquitous, see-through plastic ballpoint, has decided to give the world a ‘universal’ handwriting to go with its ‘universal pen’. For this, it’s launched a ‘Universal Typeface Experiment’ website that invites people from across the world to draw the letters of the alphabet in their own writing style on a screen, and submit them into the database. An algorithm measures the writing style and incorporates it into a continuously-evolving font—but not before replaying the contributor’s letters in motion, layered against the world’s handwriting, and showing him how his letters compare in width and height with others.

At the time of going to press, 681,683 characters had been submitted from 104 countries. Since the experiment sorts all contributions by gender, age, left or right handedness, country of origin, and industry, we know that 430,480 characters have come from males. We also know that the 15-29 age group has contributed the most characters (446,543), but the neatest hand belongs—not surprisingly—to the under-14 and over-60 groups. Search by country, and you will see India has yielded only 4,437 characters from mostly right-handed males. Sixty-nine per cent of the Indian participants belong to the 15-29 age group and 28 per cent claim to belong to creative fields.  The global hand—at the moment—stands straight and symmetrical. The crowdsourcing goes on till August; after that, BIC will release the universal typeface as a font for anyone to download. Now that’s one handwriting that will bear serious analysis. 

shampa@newindianexpress.com

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