Handwritten Texts

I’m going to expand on some tweets of mine from earlier today about this blog post.

Cristina Vanko spent a full week responding to all texts sent to her with hand-lettered calligraphy notes, which she then photographed and sent back as her response. 

There is a vintage nostalgia element to practicing something of this nature, a throwback akin to the resurgent popularity of vinyl or of the constructed “aged” photo filters as examined extensively by Nathan Jurgenson, and one of her friends recognizes this with the comment “old schoo+new school”:

iphone screenshots capturing conversations between author and friends

old schoo+new school and wondering what took so long

The vintage nostalgia of writing out a text lends credence to the “digital detox” movement in a unique way. Cristina is disengaging from traditional digital practice, and yet still practicing the act and art of communication, but on her own, slower terms.

The literal slowness of this mode of communication is recognized by another friend, who relates the immediacy expected from the texting medium, observing that she was wondering what was taking so long to receive a response. Text messages are expected to garner a more immediate reply, and when it takes longer (to construct a thought, craft a reply, or in this case, write out a response) then people begin to formulate suspicions about why a response has not yet been received.

Given their immediacy and sometime superficiality, texts are seen as something fleeting, something ephemeral, and translating them (or transliterating them) into calligraphy produces something weightier and more tangible. Quite literally, as Cristina records her output with this photo of many of her “texts” sent throughout the week: 

When you text, you don’t think much about what you’re actively producing, because it all goes into the “cloud” and it’s a short, simple message, as though you are having a conversation. Cristina pointed out something new that happened while she was handwriting her texts, indicating that (as part of a larger list):

6) My messages sent were more thoughtful in the “I used complete thoughts” type of way.
7) You look super silly if you completely ignore all that you learned in English classes. Impeccable grammar and flawless spelling is necessary for a handwritten note.

However, for the most part what Cristina was texting didn’t change–only the medium of expression–and that is important as well. Texting is important and a valid means of communication, and by blending it with a more Victorian medium of calligraphy, the texts became more substantial in effect, but no more substantial in content, with Cristina still choosing to text “K” and “Lawl” back to her friends.

Writing her texts down made them more real, and required more thought, than a text quickly fumbled through on a digital keyboard, and while her friends recognized the delay (and wondered about it), they also recognized the part it plays in adopting what is old into what is new. Through her texting experiment, Cristina crafted a new understanding of an “old” medium, and incorporated elements of “slow media” and “digital detox” while still engaging in a fully digital and new medium.

43 thoughts on “Handwritten Texts

  1. Pingback: In Their Words » Cyborgology

  2. I have not, and will never, text. I disabled that function on every device I own that can receive the bland little things and I take subversive joy in the looks of astonishment on the young faces at the Sprint store each time I upgrade a phone. No, I don’t need a single app. No, I don’t care what it can do this year. No, I don’t require a “package.” I am going to use it to send my voice into the ears of friends and clients and then listen to the sound of their voices as they respond. Okay, yes, waterproof would be nice.

    Having an emotionally meaningful conversation via characters on a screen is like performing foreplay by Morse Code–so much of the point is lost, it’s not even worth the effort. Communication requires the delicious nuances of a friend’s familiar tone of voice, their hysterical and elegant body language, and the contagious notes of their deep belly laugh. The personality of their penmanship on the page is nearly as sweet and just as individualistic. I never enter a person’s contact info into my phone, I always have them write it down for me on a slip of paper. I love seeing who they are that way.

    When was the last time you received an honest-to-goodness handwritten letter in the mail? Can you even remember? If you can, then you can remember the primal thrill of it, like hearing your name called in a crowd. Remember seeing your full name and address in the middle of the envelope, the weight and thickness of the folded pages inside, testament to the time and effort they decided you deserved? Remember the cute instances of crossed out words, misspellings, and forgotten prepositions revealing the speed and zeal with which they crafted this gift to you, this physical extension of themselves? Remember the honor you felt knowing that they trusted you with this permanent record of their thoughts and feelings? It was like receiving an Oscar for being you.

    Handwriting and live phone conversations are not “old.” They are alive. If people today are truly calling live human contact outmoded, then I have a few ideas about why society is sucking so bad in spots.

    • I admire your passion for the handwritten and voice media. Phones too were new in their day, and I’m sure there were those who chose not to use the telephone in favor of writing letters. But in my mind each form of communication serves its own purpose, or else it would not be used.
      And never fear with regard to worrying about the “old” media of handwriting and live phone conversations–I was referring to those as “old” merely as a (false) binary to “new” media such as email, texting, and facebooking (among others). As someone who lives far from many people I love, getting a letter from a friend in Moscow, and talking on the phone to a friend in Boston are moments I treasure.

      • I agree that “each form of communication serves its own purpose.” The problem is, we do not always (actually, very rarely) know what these purposes are or know what the effects are going to be on other things we love. Yes, text messaging is “convenient” for short snippets of dialogue or information to be passed, but over time I’ve seen my relationships to faraway friends and relatives reduced to this medium. With that technology available and in use by so many, it takes a deliberate effort (like Cristina Vanko’s) to do something different. And effort is not something we have much of to spare in this day and age. Communication tends to get reduced to the most “convenient” medium, and anything that’s about something more than convenience gets short-changed.

  3. omg this is awesome. The idea is really unique, original, and meaningful! I think I might try this. I love your handwriting as well. Who knows? this might be a new ‘fashion’ in texting world. Love it!

  4. Pingback: Handwritten Texts | You'll Soon Be Flying

  5. What a fascinating project – I love that she didn’t just scribble back quick notes either; the gorgeous handwriting really adds something to it!

  6. Wonderful idea! I write with a fountain pen on a daily basis. I’ve found that the pressure needed to write with a cheap ballpoint pen causes my wrist to become tired and sore very quickly, which is worsened by being a left-handed writer. I use ballpoints only occasionally. Fountain pens flow smoothly and the aesthetics rival any ballpoint pen you can find on the market. I yearn for the slow pace of era’s gone by.

  7. I have always considered myself as digital immigrant, where it’s not a choice but a need. Even now if I am typing a text i read it correct it for punctuation marks and grammatical errors, then re read it and send. Totally agree with the fact that a hand written message is more thoughtful, and nothing can substitute the thrill of receiving a letter and also the surge of emotions while writing one. Superb post!!!

    • I still do that sometimes! In my class we sorta like to text each other but we’ll always get caught and have our phones confiscated. I remember the old days when we’d send notes to each other with funny doodles of our teachers.
      — and then we’d get caught. Uh oh.

  8. I love your posting. It’s baffling to think that we would entertain the idea that handwriting could be considered “throwback.” I am not usually a fan of text messaging because they are often impersonal and so much of the content has the potential to get lost in translation. I love the personal element of these personalized text responses. Awesome!!

  9. I was very interested on the way your friend took texting into a new approach. Usually these days, teens like myself are so caught up in quickly typing messages to one another that they include several grammar mistakes. Because we are such in a modernized and digitalized world, many people tend to forget how communication started in the first place; handwritten. I think your friend is very thoughtful and sincere because she took the time to genuinely write out her texts rather than simply texting.

  10. What a neat idea. I actually have sort of a neat hybrid pen-pal relationship with one of my friends that is also “old school-new school.” We like sending one another hand written notes through snail mail, but will also use email to respond to letters from time to time for the sake of more immediate feedback. Perhaps we can try the picture of a letter and add that to the montage.

  11. That’s awesome! I struggle with adopting all this technology because of the poor grammar skills, etc., that is associated and yet, it’s just how it’s going to be. There are, clearly, good things about technology, it’s just that I’m a little bit of a throwback and it’s hard to accept haha. But this, what a great way of combining the two. It’s a way of speeding up the communication and yet keeping the profound effect of handwritten notes. Love it!

  12. I pretty much always write mega texts myself (2-3 text pages per message is the norm), with proper spelling and punctuation. I can’t help myself, I can’t suddenly abandon all I learned from copious reading and studying to shorten the message, it looks wrong, it feels wrong! Also an interesting thing is that many people have commented not on the length of my mega-texts but that they can pretty much always sense my tone, you just can’t convey that with random anagrams and abbreviations, there is far too much scope for misinterpretation. I guess I really miss the whole point of texting.
    Great article by the way and congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”

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  14. More and more people are interested in communicating with computers only. That’s a shame. I personally regret the time when handwritten letters were considered as very important.
    I have appreciated your article very much. Thank you and greetings from France!

  15. Very interesting article. It really made me think about how texting has changed our world completely and even caused disputes because of a lack of a timely response. I could imagine how writing out the texts would make you put more thought into them because I feel like these days you can respond to a text so quick without putting much thought into it and it may not have been exactly what you meant. Thanks for sharing!

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