It is Cadmus of Tyre who is credited with giving the Greeks–and, after them, the whole of Western civilization–this fabulous invention, the art of writing. To the ancients, writing was, given the scarcity of writing supports (clay tablets or, later, papyrus scrolls), a serious and grave act. The first written works that came down to us, aside from the bureaucratic Linear B tablets, are all written in verse, not in prose: the Iliad and the Odyssey, but also the Orphic poems, and it is said that Heraclitus, upon completing his treatise On Nature, dedicated it in the Artemisium. The latter example shows that the effort demanded by writing was considered on an equal footing with the other craftsmanships, and was well worth the gold dedicated to the goddess.

The tendency reported in many parts of the United States to demote writing and replace it with typing skills is worrying in many ways. The reason cited by proponents of such measures is that typing, and typing fast, is, in today’s computerized world, more important than writing. Writing is becoming, in their eyes, obsolete and ‘useless.’

This, however, seems to be the sole reason given to support the move to substitute typing for writing. But there is much more to writing, and to education in general, than simply being able to survive in the economic world. Writing is not about speed; in fact, writing demands patience and thought, both of which qualities are so crucially lacking today. Writing with ink on a sheet of paper requires one to think beforehand about how he or she will construct the sentence (syntax), what words he will use (semantics), and how the string of sentences will be made to flow smoothly together. Writing trains the mind to think and analyze, for once the sentence is written down, it is difficult to erase it, unless one leaves a dirty spot of ink disfiguring the paper. Computers, on the other hand, by allowing one to erase again and again what has just been typed, have simply removed all needs for such mental activity. I strongly doubt that it is to our benefit.