Let’s reintroduce handwriting

Seems like a ridiculous idea in the digital age (especially considering my own dysmal efforts), but I’m starting to get very tired of seeing just Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial and Lucida as selections when conveying something. There’s only so much formatting you can add to a message, unless it’s the most basic of notes, before the content gets out of hand. We’re trying to push the Amazon river, in terms of emotion and conviction, through a garden hose with typed text.

Of course, it’s easy to cop out and stick with video messages, but that feels cheap… And it is.

Handwriting should be an art form. Any monkey can poke at keys to produce a digital counterpart, but it takes the skill of advanced frontal cortex to reproduce thought in structured symbols. Drawn symbols with centuries of history or more.

Wax tablet or tablet PC?

Wax tablet or tablet PC?


I know the favorite method to reproduce handwriting is in JPEG or other image format, but I say throw all that out. Let’s use SVG output of all our handwriting as that will allow zooming to any level. You could sketch, skew your letters or do any manner of things with your message that would be all but lost in any other electronic message or be turned into a bulky blob with an image file.

It will also keep file sizes very small (still a bit larger than the standard email though). As an added benefit, you could embed the actual plain text of the message within the SVG file using handwriting recognition software so archivers will be able to find it later by searching the content.

I’ve written a very rudimentary version of a handwriting SVG output utility in JavaScript. Ideally this should be done in Java and/or Flash for a more finely tuned pickup, but I just wanted to show the basics of how such a system “might” work. Besides that, I’m extremely busy these days and JavaScript only takes a few minutes.

In the future, this type of system could also use the pressure input from a stylus to make the stroke bolder or lighter adding even more character to the content. An ideal version would make it difficult to tell the difference between a scanned written document and a SVG print.


3 thoughts on “Let’s reintroduce handwriting

  1. I’m so lame. I have no idea what SVG is. I want to say something intelligent, but I’m out of my league. My own personal handwriting that I do with a pen is legible.

    Yeah! Best comment ever!

    • Hehe. That’s OK ;)

      Normal images are just arrays of data regarding where every single pixel is placed on-screen and what their shades are. This is a huge amount of information.

      SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics.

      The best way I can describe SVG :
      Instead of pointing to every single pixel and pixel color, it’s a set of instructions (map point coordinates or “vectors”) to let the computer re-draw the image itself from a small set of primitive shapes (lines, polygons, circles etc…). These instructions are written in plain text, like this comment. Since instructions are just numbers, shape information, fill colors (like a coloring book), and locations, they can be very small.

      In my example, I use the “polyline” primitive which is basically a line path that follows a coordinate set. I just set the “fill” color to “black”.

      And because you’re only giving it instructions and not actual pixel data, you can zoom into a SVG image as much as you like (the “scalable” part). The computer will simply re-draw the image from your current zoom location. This allows an incredible degree of detail without losing resolution no matter how much you zoom in.

      Very important for something as nuanced as handwriting and why ordinary images just won’t cut it.

      Obviously, this won’t work for something as varied and detailed as a landscape or portrait as the instructions would simply be too large. But for something as simple as handwriting or other less complex imagery, I think exchanging a set of instructions is far more practical instead of bulky imagery with all of the pixel data.

      As for my own handwriting, I’ve been trying hard to improve it. I’m even thinking of taking a calligraphy class, if I have the time.

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