Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Atrophy, Apathy: Only A's in the Dictionary

It has occurred to me that I cannot remember the last time I wrote down anything longer than an email address or phone number. Like many members of our modern society, everything I do is typed on a keyboard, calculator, or phone. Typing comes naturally as breathing; when I speak aloud, the words are typed on a mental keyboard in my head; I have recently discovered that I can text message faster than I can write with a pen.

The consequences?

Whilst reviewing for a midterm I have in several hours, I wrote less than half a page of notes before I developed an intense cramp in my left forearm. The question is now, how will I be able to sustain my terribly atrophied writing muscles for the duration of a 2-hour exam? Must I fail for lack of exercise? This would likely be the first time in UChicago history that an exam was failed out of physical, rather than mental, insufficiency.

I can do a decent 40 push-ups, several pull-ups, and climb elevator shafts without getting tired. But I failed to work out the muscles that really count. On an exam, that is.

For those of you who, like me, underestimated the importance of the pen and page, I give you this advice: try writing on a regular basis. Write at least a page or two a week -- draft your code on a paper instead of a whiteboard, outline an essay before typing away, bring a notebook instead of a laptop to class, even drawing or doodling for a bit should help.

This will one day be a major issue for the NIH, I suspect. Early-Onset Mogigraphia, Advanced Writer's Cramp Syndrome, they will call it. It will affect millions of Americans, who will be diagnosed only on the off-chance that they use a pen for an extended period of time. Instead of jogging, they will encourage us to unplug for an hour a day, and use the muscles designed for menial tasks.

Do not forget the pen and paper, my friends, even though our grandchildren may know of them only through legend. We might live in this future world, but our professors do not.