As a verb, to muse is to consider something thoughtfully. As a noun, a muse is a person who is a source of artistic inspiration. What follows is a thoughtful consideration from an inspiring source.

The Muse

| January 29, 2016

Number 2

Unplanned Obsolescence

In the latest issue of my university’s alumni magazine, I was surprised to come upon a feature/editorial that delineated twelve human abilities and actions that the editor feared were in danger of becoming obsolete, but deemed important enough to be saved. Many of them had also crossed my mind in the recent past (much more recently than my college years) and so I want to share a few of them here:

  1. Handwritten Correspondence – Sorry, I have become as guilty as anyone else about lapsing on this nicety. E-mail is now considered more efficient because there’s no need to buy or have stamps, writing paper and envelopes on hand and no trip to a post office or mailbox on which to waste one’s time. Sending texts takes efficiency even further, via the use of acronyms, abbreviations and emojis. And being the “late,” as opposed to “early,” adopter that I am, I can’t even begin to comment on the effects of Twitter and other, newer forms of social media in this regard.

    Thank God (or whomever) that there have been historians and archivists who have preserved the handwritten letters (and even scribblings) of famous and not-so-famous people of the past, so that future generations can get a glimpse of their eras, experiences, ideas and motivations. One shudders to think what might have been lost if there had been a trash button that couldn’t be reversed.

    Still, I can’t deny that all of the new forms of electronic communication that we’ve adapted to so easily have a place and a usefulness in this constantly changing and moving world in which we live. However, if you haven’t had the pleasure of opening up an envelope, finding a newsy letter or note from an old friend or close relative (as opposed to a bill or junk mail), pouring yourself a cup of coffee and catching up with them via an instrument of communication that they took the time to handwrite and send…well, I hope you do someday. Because – be it handwritten letter or even a brief note – it makes one feel very special indeed. (And I won’t muddy the waters at this juncture by mentioning the equally pleasurable experience of a personal phone conversation, but file that away for a future discussion.)

Of course, the steady disappearance of handwritten correspondence is one direct result of all these electronic tools that require typing skills rather than…

  1. Cursive Writing – Did you know that a National Handwriting Day was established (surprisingly) back in 1977 and takes place on January 23rd which, not coincidentally, is John Hancock’s birthday. (And no, not because he founded an insurance company – which he didn’t!) Seriously, a recent study revealed that people who take notes by hand actually answer conceptual questions better than those who record them on a laptop or tablet-type device. Perhaps, it’s been posited, that’s because they absorb what they’re hearing in their own words as opposed to recording it verbatim.

    Furthermore, while “modernists” may feel that cursive has no place in our technological society, more traditional minds see the problem more as the rapid disappearance of not just handwriting in general but, equally important, that of composition as an intellectual process. Which I think leads us, however indirectly, to a third learned skill in danger of becoming extinct…

  2. Proper Grammar – Correct spelling, usage and grammar have all but flown out the window in our Internet age. Texting and social media place a premium on “faster is better.” Proper grammar? Fugetaboutit, no time for that!

    But there are still sticklers for good grammar and spelling and you just might want to be aware of that. Take software company CEO Kyle Wiener, whose column for the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago entitled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why” was reprinted and quoted in a variety of media sources. He believes in the adage “God is in the details” (actually, he said “the devil is in the details” – interesting that?). As a result, Weiner insists, employees who pay attention to good writing and good grammar will pay attention to other details that are important to their job and his business. He also notes that, beyond attention-to-detail, good grammar not only establishes credibility in written and verbal communications, but also indicates how someone will approach a variety of tasks that are possibly unrelated to their current job description.

    Grammar is generally defined as a system of rules that define how we should communicate in a language. In that vein, I gather from my limited knowledge of current teaching methods that the concept of diagramming a sentence has all but disappeared. And that’s a shame because I have long felt that this exercise, once understood, is an invaluable tool for learning how to write a proper and grammatical sentence. For me it was, anyway. True, sentence diagramming doesn’t teach you the difference between it’s and its or there, their and they’re per se, but it is a good place to start to understand how to put words together properly in order to construct a comprehensible thought.

Yes, I want to save these aspects of civilized society that seem so in danger of extinction, but I fear the result might be that I end up as “the last man standing.” For when one champions what is increasingly considered passé in modern life, one may also risk being labeled a dinosaur and, thereby, ensure your own “unplanned obsolescence.” To which I say: So be it!


Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
– Mahatma Gandhi

The Muse will be making quarterly appearances on this site. Look for his next appearance around...May Day!

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