Is the pen mightier than the keyboard?

When was the last time you sat down to write a letter, draft an outline for a proposal or write an article using a pen?

Christmas cards have gone electronic as have wedding invites and birthday wishes. Part of me yearns for that personal handwritten envelope with the familiar handwriting that distinguishes the person that tells me the author before I have opened it.

But what does the disappearing art of handwriting mean in relation to how well we perform? Are we losing something uniquely human from connecting our thoughts and ideas to paper using a pen.

Handwriting is a highly complex process; from how we hold the pen, to directing the movement of our writing utensil over the paper. From writing’s first appearance in Mesopotamia over 4000 years ago we have witnessed many changes from stone carvings, papyrus scrolls, quills and nibs to the latest technological advance – the keyboard.

The modern workplace requires us to think fast and work fast and our computerisedoffices certainly help us to achieve that, but the question remains, is how we record our data affecting how we think?

Is it better to take notes by longhand or use a laptop in a meeting or a lecture?

My personal preference (because that was what I was taught to do), is to take notes longhand, despite feeling somewhat technologically inadequate as I sit surrounded by those who have moved onto using their tablets and laptops.

If I have something I need to remember – I write it down.

If I have an article to write, a speech or workshop to prepare, I use paper and pen to map out the key-points first.

When speaking to clients on the phone I jot down notes on my ‘doodle pad’ as a way to ensure I have covered all the points I wish to raise or discuss.

Is it just my non-digital brain hasn’t adapted to the ‘new way of doing’ or is there something to be said for using our brains differently for different tasks?

The research would suggest there is a difference – a study of 300 students from Princeton and UCLA found that hand written notes helped students to retain information and answer questions better than those who used their laptops to record information.

Why? The authors believe this is because typing down notes is a more literal recording of what is heard whereas taking notes in longhand requires us to think through how to summarise points and process the information at a deeper level.

So while our technology is helping us so much to simplify, organize and record our work and while we will continue to see more ‘efficient’ paperless offices, there is still a place for handwriting to help us to learn, to think more deeply around a subject, to be more creative and to remember more.

Lastly there seems to be something about recording our thoughts in a handwritten journal, those loose ideas to be explored at a later date, as a way to calm down our super busy brains or to express our gratitude for what we have.

  • Do you use handwriting in your daily activities?
  • Is handwriting a dying art that has had its day?
  • Is there a place to use both in our modern workplace for best performance?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ref

  

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. 2014 The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note-taking. Psychological Science. 

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