Jane Bradley: Will manners be written off?

When I was at primary school, we all had to take part in the annual handwriting competition at the local village fair.

In a world where word processors and computers are increasingly the norm, has handwriting had its day? Picture: Phil Wilkinson

We’d sit at our desks, get out our best pens – using only blue or black ink, mind you, the outlandish colours which had become so popular in the late 1980s were then banned by the powers that be – and painstakingly transcribe a prescribed number of verses of a specific poem onto wide lined paper.

That task completed, our efforts would be mounted by the teacher onto a sludgy background of dark blue or brown paper and displayed proudly on the wall of the church hall, alongside entries from the rival primary school down the road.

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The best transcriptions would then be selected by some local dignitary deemed to be an expert in the fine art of good handwriting.

Each year, I would geekily rush to the church hall the minute the fair opened, hoping to spot a colourful badge with a “1st”, “2nd” or even a paltry “3rd” stuck to the top of my paper. I never got one. My handwriting was never picked out as better than that of my classmates. In fact, it was probably ranked among the bottom few.

Of course it is now even worse than it was twenty-odd years ago, for I almost never write by hand.

A study carried out for card company Clintons found that the average adult now pens between 25 and 50 words a week – that is fewer than ten a day.

The rest of the time, the survey found, we type, text or even use voice recognition software to get our thoughts down on paper – or indeed on screen.

For me, writing full sentences with a real pen seems like an huge effort. Just putting a few words down on a birthday card or shopping list is a near-impossible task. My penmanship is scruffy, slapdash and almost illegible.

I blame the deterioration on my profession. I actually write hundreds of words with a pen every day, when jotting down notes from interviews: but I do that in shorthand, my notebooks looking to the untrained eye like they have been filled by an ink-covered snail attempting to trace Arabic.

But longhand? That, it appears, is so last century.

Our love for electronically producing words, the Clintons survey found, also means that we are writing fewer thank you cards.

However, we seem unable to find a universally accepted e-alternative, meaning we have lost not just the skill of handwriting, but also the art of good manners.

Fewer than half of the people polled said they were happy to be thanked by a text message – while almost eight out of ten would be satisfied if they received a handwritten note after sending a present or doing a favour for a friend.

One in four said they felt insulted by being thanked by a tweet, while one in five said they would be upset by being thanked via a Facebook status update. One in eight admitted that they would take the hump if they were to receive an electronic greeting such as an e-card.

It’s a tricky one. While most people still sit down with their children to insist on the post-Christmas and birthday thank you card marathon, I wonder how many adults actually bother to pen a personal note after receiving a gift.

I have one friend who has always adopted what to me was always a lovely, but quaint, almost Victorian custom, of posting a personalised note to my house a couple of days after she came round for dinner.

Others turn up empty handed, or clutching a half drunk bottle of red and get stuck in helping me cook the pasta. Either way is fine with me – I’m usually more towards the latter, myself.

When it comes to presents, I usually go by the rule of thumb that if I have spoken to the person, either face-to-face or over the phone, then that will generally do. I may even have been guilty, on a few occasions, of sending a text to express my gratitude.

But perhaps it won’t do. After all, there’s nothing like getting a note or card, complete with actual stamp, posted through the door. I’m just going to need to do some work on my hand-writing first, that’s all.