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Could the Pen be Mightier than the Keyboard?

Despite computers being an essential part of everyday life to many of us, global sales of pens & pencils are rising, according to market research provider Euromonitor. Amongst the reasons given are the increasing wealth amongst consumers in emerging markets & advances in developing countries.

This news could be music to the ears of fans of writing instruments & there are a number of studies that claim there are advantages to putting pen (or pencil) to paper rather than reaching for the nearest electronic gadget. There are suggestions that handwriting notes can focus the mind more than typing.

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Prompted by her own experiences psychological scientist Dr Pam Mueller conducted a series of experiments with fellow researcher Danny Oppenheimer. Participants were divided into groups, some had laptops, the other pens & pencils.

Results found that

  • When given the chance to review notes after one week, longhand note takers beat those using laptops when ask to recall information.
  • Although both groups performed equally well on questions involving remembering facts, longhand note-takers performed significantly better on the conceptual questions.
  • Whilst laptop users wrote about 55% more than their counterparts their notes recorded lectures word for word, whereas notes written by hand contained the participants own words.

The results of this & other research suggest that when we write we actively engage the brain in the process of forming letters, handwriting notes also helps us to retain facts. The mechanism of typing however just involves selecting identical looking keys, it's easy to re-produce information word for word without really thinking about content.

Many companies are embracing the digital revolution, stylus pens & digital pens are widely available, there are also tools to digitally paint on your iPad.

As interesting as it is, all the academic theories in the world won't persuade me to give up the pen. I know people who use their phones for almost everything but I like to have a notebook to jot down ideas wherever I may be. I've also tried computer programs for mind mapping, but they don't even come close to a sheet of paper & few coloured pens or pencils when I have the need for a brainstorming session.

There are arguments for & against almost everything & for my part I'd say there is a place for both pens & keyboards. Whilst there are undoubtedly advantages to using a pen, I don't expect you'd find too many people that could write faster than they type, with the exception of those that do shorthand that is.

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