Is Handwriting Dead?

A page from a kid's primer of cursive writing- with the letters a to z and the numbers 1 to 10.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is Handwriting Dead? My fifth grader is doing OK with remote school and keeps up to date with classwork. He spends most of the day on the computer and then plays video games in the evening. My worry is that there is no opportunity to turn in assignments written by hand. So, his handwriting (penmanship) is suffering. When I went to elementary school the nuns made me stay after class and corrected my hand-writing until it looked satisfactory (to them). My son thinks this is funny, but I do not think his bad hand writing is funny at all. Jemma, Los Angeles

Dear Jemma, There are some skills that are enhanced by computer learning but penmanship is not one of them. Sitting at a computer all day make us faster on the keyboard, but hand writing skills atrophy. An older story in The Washington Post, reports that until the 1970s penmanship was taught as a separate subject and up till sixth grade children spent at least two hours a week on it. Today, when schools teach hand writing it is frequently for 10 minutes or less a day, and formal instruction ends after third grade. It’s a conundrum: many kids never learn cursive writing and printing can be too slow for them to get their thoughts on paper.

There may be ways that you can intervene as a parent but it will take two of you to carry this off. What I mean is that you, as a parent, will need to pickup a pencil and paper, sometimes in lieu of your phone, and show how enjoyable and useful it is to write by hand. You son is going to model the media behavior he sees at home, from reading books and newspapers, to spending free time on the phone or computer. 

Get Fun!

First, I would read up on the pros and cons of different handwriting techniques: print,  cursive or a speed-combo called the Barchowsky method. Go with what your son feels comfortable with. Then, visit a stationery store together and pick out the pen and pencils that feel special to your son. The right pen, with a comfortable grip, makes a difference in how handwriting looks on the page.  And, kids seem to enjoy the newest pens that have erasable ink. 

The second step is to set a daily routine with a fun time to write. Mom can be  the “tooth fairy” and leave a small gift (a candy bar, a poem, a new pen).   Then, your son has to keep a hand-written journal for the “tooth fairy.” He can write about the gifting, how he feels about that day’s cache. If this seems contrived, then create an “appreciation journal”- talk through what you are both grateful for each day, and have him write a few sentences about it in a lined notebook. 

Get Literate Too!

There is a parallel activity if you want to add a lesson on media literacy. Configure his phone so that there is always paper and pencil nearby- perhaps put the smartphone, the notebook and a pen in a see-through carry case. After using the phone and putting it back in the case, he writes a few sentences in the notebook about the browsing habit: what he saw or looked at, and how it made him feel (e.g. happy, sad, indifferent).  You can customize the page to be a timesheet with entries. 

The idea is that he works on his hand-writing as he also develops a mindful, attentive awareness towards browsing the Internet. I would not stress over the particular words or sentences he writes, since your focus is on just getting him to use the pen more and the keyboard less.

Zoom App on Phone Good?

Zoom Zoom is for Motorways….not for cars.

on a mobile phone, a picture of four people meeting asif  the zoom app is is use.
mobile zoom on phone

Dear Ms. Smartphone: This week I installed the Zoom app on my phone, but my wife went ballistic. She says that I should do Zoom meetings from my home office. We carefully set up the home office together this past March and I signed up for a faster Internet speed then. It is a nice place to work from with a good view, but I am tired of taking all of my meetings indoors. So, why should she care if I use the app on the phone instead?   Kirby, San Francisco

Dear Kirby,

First, approach this with emotional intelligence: perhaps your wife has issues because the two of you went to some trouble to set up the office- picking out suitable furniture, getting new lighting or cameras, and locking into a fast plan with your ISP.  Maybe she feels that you are showing less appreciation towards the digital “nest” you built together. Or, she views this change as a signal that you  work from home is ending. These are emotional issues to talk through. If they don’t fit, then move from emotional intelligence to digital intelligence. 

Here is the safety issue, the so-called digital intelligence. Should you interact with the Zoom app in your vehicle, as you drive, it puts you at risk of a collision, and may cause injury to yourself or others.

DistraCtion Highway 101

There are three sources of smartphone distraction in the car: visual distraction- tick one off for Zoom as you search the faces of four other people; manual distraction- tick of another one as you share your screen; and, the third, most important one – mental distraction. Many people think that they can multi-task when they drive, but honestly, driving demands our full-time faculty. Would you trust your surgeon if she browses on the phone while examining you? Would you trust the driver in the next lane who is having an angry phone call with his teen?

Even if you are a passenger, you probably don’t want to hold a Zoom meeting in the car, What happens here is that the phone call requires extra mental concentration, when we only hear one side of it. So, the driver is likely to be unwittingly engaged. 

Out of the Woods

If you are thinking of using Zoom when you walk the dog or go outside- be cognizant of the surroundings. If there are many streets to cross or busy on-coming traffic, it’s not a good idea. If it’s a walk in the woods, it’s probably OK but ask yourself if this is how you want to spend your time out of doors? Is it mindful? 

Should you need to be in this meeting in the first place if you cannot give it your full attention?  And think of the other party to your Zoom call. What are your digital manners and are you demeaning their time and input when your first priority is to walk the dog while conversing?

We all have times when we cannot be at a fixed location to take a call, so I get the usefulness of the Zoom mobile app. Note that Zoom gives you the option to make a dial-in call, without installing the app. So you can listen in and participate , but you won’t see the participants. 

When we have great technology and good connectivity, it’s not necessary to be a Luddite and resist virtual meetings. However, if you do choose to put this particular app on your smartphone, be mindful of where and when you choose to you it. Most of all, make sure you do not multi-task in the car, unless you are sitting there with the engine turned off. Zoom Zoom is for motorways, not for meetings. 

Reset iPhone for Mom?

Mom is getting hand-me-down phone. Should she get hand-me-down apps?

PIcture from an Iphone of the screen where you reset it to erase all contents
Here’s where you rest the iPhone to factory settings.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is reset necessary? My son has offered to give me his iPhone since he is getting a new one this week. His phone is two or three years old and I notice it has a lot of apps and programs on the home page. He wants to give me the phone as is, with all these apps and programs because he says they are useful and can help me. I would prefer to have none of them and just a clean screen. What do you think? Trish, Richmond

Dear Trish: What a thoughtful son and what a good idea. If the phone is just two or three years old, it should serve you well. But, whether or not you do a reset, make sure that the operating system is updated to its latest version. That will make the phone less vulnerable to hacks, and probably improve the battery life and performance. 

As for wiping out the apps your son has installed and starting afresh, I would say ‘go for it.’ That way you can find new apps that matter to you, check their security settings, and have a home screen that is personalized to your needs and interests. Imagine that you moved into someone’s house and they had a bookcase filled with records and books. You might enjoy looking through them, but they might not reflect what you prefer to be surrounded with. BTW, ‘app’ is short for application, and it refers to software that runs on your mobile device. When you ‘tap the app’, it will link you to an outside website.

Pass on the Password

The other reason I would start with a fresh restart is that many times there are passwords and user names associated with the apps and  logins. When I teach the ridehail class, I see older people frustrated by their phones because they need to know the codes that their children set up, but forgot to share. Likewise, there may be a credit card on file, say for Uber or Lyft, that is not yours. 

It isn’t clear whether this hand-me down phone is going to be billed to your own phone plan or to your son’s family plan. If the latter, you might want to look into the Apple Watch I mentioned in last week’s column. The newest version will not require you to carry your iPhone with you when you go out! But, your movements and phone log might be visible to your son!

Apps We Need in Bay Area!

But, back to the phone you are setting up. It might be a good idea, at least for a week or two , to browse the App Store every day and see the variety of apps you can download. I am linking here to a useful set of phone numbers and apps for safety and emergencies here in the Bay Area from the SF Chronicle.  (make sure to scroll down the page)

On a lighter note,  you might enjoy the games, the brain exercises, the cooking classes, or more. Other ones,  like  iHealth or Compass are baked into the phone and can’t be deleted. When you browse new apps, most of them will be free, but if you see one that costs money, you can use a pre-paid Itunes card if you don’t want to put your credit card on file.

You can find the controls to wipe your phone clean under Setting>General >Reset. You’ll note when you do this that you have to initialize the change by entering the phone’s passcode. So you are not going to enable this without having a full discussion with your son and getting his passcode for the  hand-me-down phone! Meanwhile, since you will probably be donating the phone you use today, or putting it in the sock drawer, make sure to wipe that one clean too.