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'Character amnesia' hitting gear-obsessed kids

Constant use of alphabet-inspired gadgets is reportedly causing kids in both Japan and China to simply forget how to write in their own languages.

Who was the last person you ever saw write anything? You know, with a pen. For me, it was Terrell Owens, when he removed his Sharpie during an NFL game, signed a ball, and thrust himself into greater posterity.

People type these days. They don't write. The issue, however, has been further exacerbated in China and Japan, where languages based on characters, rather than the alphabet, are apparently simply being forgotten by those who have dedicated their lives to keypads and screens.

An interesting Agence France-Presse expose offered a look at just how serious the problem has become. Here's how serious it is: it has a name--"character amnesia."

The China Youth Daily wanted to find out how bad this amnesia really was and discovered that 83 percent of the 2,072 who replied said they experience difficulty writing Chinese characters.

My 20-year-old Chinese friend tells me this says: GOOGLE IS CHINA'S BEST FRIEND IN THE WORLD. But he could be wrong. CC Myuibe/Flickr

The majority of Chinese people are reportedly familiar with pinyin, a system that turns Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet. So while you have to know which character to select from the menu, you don't actually have to know how to take your pen and re-create that character.

Japan has a slightly different issue. It has three writing systems. But the most complicated, the Kanji, is not used on gadget keyboards. The AFP quoted 23-year-old Ayumi Kawamoto as saying: "I've mostly forgotten characters I learned in middle and high school and I tend to forget the characters I only occasionally use."

Some are very concerned about this change, even resorting to keeping handwritten diaries to maintain a level of written competence. Some smartphones, including the iPhone, do offer the ability to draw a character on the touch screen.

But there are those who believe this is just evolution. In the 1930s, even Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung was conscious of the complicated nature of the Chinese language and ordered some of the written characters to be simplified.

This amnesia might seem like a problem only for character-based languages, but I wonder whether they're the only victims. Surely you, too, have seen, say, the English language increasingly tortured by the uncertain hands of those who spend far too long touching keys rather than pens, books, or other humans.