4.0431 Handwriting Technology. Why? (3/99)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 28 Aug 90 22:03:12 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0431. Tuesday, 28 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: Tue, 28 Aug 1990 10:38:24 EDT (65 lines)
From: "James H. Coombs" <JAZBO@BROWNVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why?

(2) Date: Mon, 27 Aug 90 17:31:58 EDT (20 lines)
From: Chris Gowlland <ST402868@BROWNVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why?

(3) Date: Mon, 27 Aug 90 22:53 PDT (14 lines)
Subject: Re: 4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 1990 10:38:24 EDT
From: "James H. Coombs" <JAZBO@BROWNVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why?

>Date: Sat, 25 Aug 90 11:34:45 EDT
>From: "Adam C. Engst" <PV9Y@CORNELLA>
>Subject: Handwriting technology. Why?
>What I wonder, and pose to Humanists, is what really is the use of
>handwriting technology?

1. Requires only one hand to write. You can use the other hand to hold a
book open, etc. I use a book holder now, but some books insist on
snapping shut. You can also use one hand to hold the machine and the
other to write.

2. Handwriting technology permits free-hand drawing as well. For parse
trees, flow charts, org. charts, etc. Not good at free hand? Use it
for rough drafts. Eventually, some pattern matcher will probably be
able to convert a free-hand drawing into structured graphics.

3. Keyboards tend to be too noisy for meetings, classes, libraries, etc.
Handwriting is quiet.

4. Some people don't type. Some people have only one hand.

5. Perhaps, there is less stress on tendons from handwriting than from
striking keys. On the other hand, I do not get cramped fingers from

6. The proportion of "checking-off" activities to other computing may
not be so small that we should postpone handwriting technology. We
should be careful here about what we compare also: people, hours, $? We
should also consider the possibility that handwriting technology will
cause a shift in practices. For an idealistic example, let's say that
electronic technology enables an aircraft manufacturer to rapidly
disseminate information about critical pre-flight inspections. The
check-off list for an aircraft may suddenly have an extra entry---say,
to check for cracks in a certain high stress area. They find the
cracks. The aircraft that would have crashed does not. This scenario
may never occur. I use it simply to illustrate that we need to think
about the applicability of a technology to "critical" problems, where a
small proportion of hours of use may carry a much higher value to

I'm sure that there are other advantages. I should also point out that
most people see handwriting as an adjunct to typing, not as a
replacement. From this perspective, I feel little need to discuss the
disadvantages of handwriting in the abstract. I think most of us would
love to have a machine to take to the library, etc., given perfect
handwriting recognition, zero weight, zero cost, perfect compatibility
with our base work stations, etc. I think the main questions now have
to do with the success of the various attempts to produce machines. (I
also assume that we will have handwriting machines before we have a
universal electronic library available instantaneously to every


Dr. James H. Coombs
Chief Architect
Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship (IRIS)
Brown University, Box 1946
Providence, RI 02912
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------26----
Date: Mon, 27 Aug 90 17:31:58 EDT
From: Chris Gowlland <ST402868@BROWNVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why? (1/42

I agree. There seems no good reason for developing (presumably at vast
expense, which will then be passed on to the rest of us and to the
institutions where we work and study) the technology for "writing" on
the screen, or indeed onto a horizontal pad or anything of the same ilk.
I recall reading in another of the trade mags, some time in 1988, that
the reason for developing these toys was for the benefit of CEO's and
other worthies aged over 40 who can't type ("woman's work") and aren't
willing to demean themselves by learning how to. They want the
information that the computer can give, but they aren't willing to use
any kind of interface more complex than a fountain pen. I know, it
probably seems ridiculous to everyone likely to be reading this list,
but there are (to my certain knowledge) members of faculty at Brown who
have computers sitting on their desks which they have never even
switched on... they still write out everything by hand and pass it to a
secretary to be word-processed. They're not all all that old, either
[not a sic!] :-)
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------173---
Date: Mon, 27 Aug 90 22:53 PDT
Subject: Re: 4.0430 Handwriting Technology. Why? (1/42)

Chinese and Japanese too are not really accessible as "written"
characters, especially Classical Chinese, unless one can write on the
screen. That is one reason to keep on with the possibility of powerful
graphics chips and writing tools. A good reason indeed, not for me,
but my son with his Mac Plus, who has his Ph.D. in Classical Chinese,
but everything is done by hand. Scanning 10,000 book s of the standard
history might ormight not help out. A vast corpus of important things
is not available, unless to the very specialized specialist. But then,
the Chinese are really a century or so off from mass ownership of
computers, let alone communication like ours. Kessler murmuring aloud.