An Ode to Handwriting by Greg Niemeyer

23 Jan, 2022

An Ode to Handwriting by Greg Niemeyer

Greg Niemeyer has a beautiful new essay on the history of handwriting, from chisels to artificial intelligence, through a collaboration with Moleskine. The article is part of a larger course Greg was teaching in Fall 2021, L&S 25: Creativity in Practice. The course responded to a simple prompt with urgent creativity. The prompt: Write a note from the future to the present, by hand. Many students generated innovative language systems, alphabets and even hand-drawn sound waves to speculate how handwriting might look in the future. Most common were warnings and pleas to do what we could possibly do to stop climate change, because the future will be dire.

From the article:

We write with AI when we text by phone, type on the cloud, and search online: Auto-correct, Auto-complete, Grammar check etc. are all are contributing our writing and thinking to vast corporate machines. They give us a form of language that is more organized, structured and suitable for mining.

AI abhors the typo. Typos introduce unwanted ambiguity into computations which are all about converting the massive uncertainty of all possible words into certain, coherent sentences. Thinking machines influence our writing, thinking and feeling as much as we influence the way they work. We write, think and feel in concert with machines. Auto-complete enacts our corporate corporate power, much like the chisel, the brush and the access to literacy itself enacted past forms of power.

But when we write, we create our future. On the blank page, our mind guides the writing hand. That hand guides the pen. That pen shapes the word. That word spurs the mind to keep writing on, and each stroke of the pen holds the potential for a new thought, a new story, and a new world.

The blank page, the open mind and the free hand are unfettered by assistive technology, unfettered by End User License Agreements (EULA), unfettered by forms and conventions defined before we even begin. It is up to us to use, to invoke our blank pages, our open minds and our free hands. It is up to us to determine what future civilizations may spring from that freedom.

So when we write in dialog with machines, we constitute our future world in close collaboration with corporate AI. That’s real power: Who controls the way we write, controls the language, and who controls the language, controls the future.

Read the full article, The Way We Write here, and watch the video below.

You can also find out more about student (handwritten!) projects here.