Handwriting is always dying. Fading. Becoming a lost art.
That’s how it’s often described, even by those who love it. But the thing is, handwriting is not some quaint remnant of the past that we look back on fondly. It is an essential skill, obviously not as widely used as it once was, but still relevant, even now, and better in many ways than the more advanced tools that have supposedly replaced it.
1. Versatility of pen and paper
When I take notes, I don’t write only in linear paragraphs. Sometimes, a thought or detail jumps out at me, and I like to make a special note of it. When underlining isn’t enough, I’ll write a little side note, usually at a 45 degree angle to the original paragraph, with an arrow pointing to the word or phrase that triggered the thought.
You ever tried doing something like that with a keyboard and a regular word processing program?
But you can do anything you want with a blank piece of paper. Write or draw or both at any spot on the page, in any direction, in as many different styles as you like. You never have to change formatting and aren’t limited by the program’s features. The process is fast, seamless and intuitive. You think it, and your hand creates it.
The only limitation to what you can do with paper and pen is your imagination.
2. No special tools needed
Hardcore pen snobs might want to look away now. I’ll wait…OK, now here’s the thing: When you really need to commit a quick thought, piece of info, or image to paper, any old ink pen or pencil will do the trick. All you need is paper and a working writing instrument.
That’s one of the things that makes the simple pen and ink solution better than tablets that allow you to write and draw directly onto the screen.
With many of those tablets, a simple stylus won’t work. You need a special “pen” that actually connects with –and is powered by – the tablet to take notes or draw with any degree of accuracy. For example, the Galaxy Note tablet requires Samsung’s S-Pen, using Wacom tablet pen technology. (CNN said writing with the S-Pen is like “writing with a slightly stubby ballpoint.”)
Lose the special pen that goes with your tablet, and you have to buy a new one before you can return to taking notes or drawing.
3. That comfy feeling
Using pen and paper is just a more pleasant experience than tapping a screen or cold plastic keys.
The balanced fit of the right pen nestled in your fingers, the soft, textured feel of good quality paper against your hand, the tactile feedback as the smooth nib glided across the page. It’s all part of the pleasure of writing that we’ve enjoyed since grade school.
It makes the act of preserving a thought or emotion something satisfying and personal – a feeling that is entirely lacking when you use a device for that same purpose.
4. Price you can afford
Gadgets are expensive – £500+ for an iPhone 5 – and seem to become outdated every 18 to 24 months. You could spend yourself into the poorhouse just trying to keep up.
Of course, you could spend just as much on high-end fountain pens and inks, if you wanted. But the nice thing about simple pen and paper for your daily notes is that it can also cost very little.
A decent quality refillable gel pen like an EnerGel or a G2 goes for less than £3 and a good Rhodia notebook is what, maybe another £10 or £12? Maybe not high-end, but you’d still get good use out of them. And at those prices, even if you write constantly, it would still take a few years to catch up to the price of an expensive tablet or phone.
5. Portability and convenience
The beauty of using pens and notebooks lies in the simplicity.
You just stick them in your pocket and go. They don’t require special totes or chargers, can be used anywhere, even when the sun is glaring down, and will generally take quite a bit of abuse. Get yourself a Uni Power Tank and a Rite in the Rain notebook, and you can even take notes or make sketches any ol’ rugged place you want to go, whatever the weather.
When was the last time your notebook stopped working just because you dropped it on some pavement?
6. The pen/brain connection
There have been numerous studies in the last few years that have shown a link between handwriting and learning. The basic idea is that writing information down by hand creates special associations in the brain that do not occur when using a keyboard.
For example, European researchers found that those learning a new language were more likely to remember letters correctly after handwriting them than typing them. And at the University of Indiana, another study found that students were more likely to remember information one week later if they wrote it in cursive, rather than in print or by keyboard.
That benefit may also extend to creativity, as well.
Dutch researcher Lambert Schomaker, attending last year’s International Conference on Frontiers in Handwriting Recognition, told an Indian newspaper:
“Prolonged research and feedback at various levels in a society have shown that ideas come spontaneously to those who write with a pen or pencil and as a matter of fact, they largely fare better than those who work on keyboards. Because, writing with pen or pencil is a natural habit and very few people realise that.”
And this is how author Lee Rourke put it in a column for the Guardian about novelists who write by hand:
For me, writing longhand is an utterly personal task where the outer world is closed off, just my thoughts and the movement of my hand across the page to keep me company. The whole process keeps me in touch with the craft of writing. It’s a deep-felt, uninterrupted connection between thought and language which technology seems to short circuit once I begin to use it.