FloppyWhilst I am no fanboy, there is one thing that I think Apple does well: phasing out obsolete technology. Whether it was floppy drives in the 90s or DVD drives and Ethernet ports in the 10s, there is no place in Apple machines for old technology. And it’s not just hardware, but software too: remember when they ended OS 9 app support in Lion?

Some would argue that Apple move too fast on this front, causing difficulties for those consumers who need to keep these legacy technologies in use for reasons beyond their control. However, many others would argue that in expunging the old, we make way for the new, giving space for innovative new technologies to flourish. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer here, just multitudinous levels of positive and negative effects on individuals, aggregated to tell us something about the overall cost or benefit.

To me it seems like the classical art of hand writing is today where floppies were in the mid 1990s: still useful, still in active use, but on the verge of a precipitous decrease in utility. Of course, hand writing is still an amazingly useful technology to master: it lets you write quick notes, fill out archaic government forms, sit archaic exams and operate when the power goes down. However, there is another way to look at this, and it revolves around a key question:

Can we justify the expense, in terms of learning time and energy, of teaching 5 year-olds to write today, when more than likely their adult lives will most likely not involve much handwriting?

Again, there is of course no right or wrong here, just a range of options with a variety of probable outcomes. On the positive side, time not given over to rote learning of hand forming letters could be used to improve any number of other skills, values or outcomes. On the negative side, students would become dependent on electronic aides (but aren’t we all already?), and might lose out on some fine motor skill development. I am sure experts could weigh in here with plenty more points on either side.

Perhaps we could take a middle ground and teach students to print legibly in block capitals, whilst not insisting they learn to write lengthy scripts in formal hand writing? Would this solution offer the best of both worlds? Perhaps.

I can imagine this same scene played out repeatedly through history as we moved through a long series of different writing technologies. Should our young scholars continue to learn to carve, or should we allow them to use this infernal, unreliable and ethereal new ink? Think of the children!

At some point educationalists, most likely those in primary schools, will need to start grappling with this question. With ever increasing lists of skills, values and outcomes to teach students we need all the classroom time we can get. On the other hand, perhaps we could just overthrow the whole system. At any rate, I would love to see some further research done into this, perhaps with an effort to judge when exactly is the right time to stop teaching children to write in the way we currently do.

Credit: Dysan disk image by Farmer Jan on Wikipedia, shared under PD.