Smartphones Killed Handwriting. Let’s Bring It Back.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I go to meetings, I normally bring my laptop to take notes. I type pretty fast, and it’s nice to have my email right there in case things get boring. But recently I’ve been doing the unthinkable—bringing pen and paper, and writing notes by hand. I have to tell you, it’s been great.

Handwriting has lost its importance in society. Some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that writing by hand can help you process and remember information far better than typing. A 2014 study found that when students typed notes, they tended to just transcribe whatever the professor said, while those working with pen and paper were mentally summarizing and paraphrasing, which led to better test scores.

At the same time, pen and paper lack the advantages of the digital age. If you leave your notebook at home, you can’t just grab your notes on your work laptop. It has no search button or sharing tool. You don’t have a backup if it gets lost or destroyed—and my Field Notes notebook is a lot less waterproof than my phone.

. . . .

Have an iPad Pro or the most recent iPad? Consider plunking down another $100 for anApple Pencil. You can sketch and write in Apple’s own Notes app, but I’m especially fond of GoodNotes, an $8 app that offers note-takers lots of creative features. Likewise, if you have a Surface or other Windows Ink-friendly PC, you can open up OneNote and write away withMicrosoft ’s $100 Surface Pen. A number of Chromebooks offer pen support, too, though their precision and speed don’t match other platforms.

. . . .

The pen isn’t going to replace your keyboard or touch screen, but when you’re in a meeting and don’t want to hide behind a big screen, or when you’re marking up a contract, you might want to reach for your pen.

Of the devices I use every day, only my phone remains stubbornly pen-free.

. . . .

Unfortunately, sliding a stylus over a glass screen feels nothing like writing on paper. Plus you’re dealing with a blazingly bright display, a breakable body and a battery to charge—none of which applies to paper.

. . . .

That’s why a few manufacturers have built devices meant to more closely mimic the paper feeling. And a few tried to make paper itself a bit smarter.

My favorite of the kind is Sony ’s Digital Paper, a wafer-thin tablet with an E Ink screen (like an Amazon Kindle) that you write on with a stylus. Sony says it is used mostly by lawyers and doctors who need to read long contracts without hurting their eyes, but who also want to scribble notes or corrections in the margins. It turns a pile of printouts into a list of PDF files you can mark up, organize and share. It’s useful, but at $600, it’s unnecessary.

I am similarly intrigued by the Smart Writing Set from Moleskine, the popular notebook maker. It comes with a normal-looking paper notebook and a special pen, which transmits everything it writes and draws to a companion app on your phone or tablet. Every time you start writing in your notebook, the digital counterpart updates in real time to match. Yet at $200, this, too, is expensive, and its software can be unreliable. It’s clever, but it isn’t ready.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

7 thoughts on “Smartphones Killed Handwriting. Let’s Bring It Back.”

  1. This article betrayed its premise immediately.

    Headline: Smartphones killed handwriting!

    Introduction: “I don’t handwrite anymore because I type my notes by computer.”

    It’s a shame, because digital notetaking is an interesting field. And it is true that sliding a stylus over an untextured glass screen is a very different tactile experience.

    Personally, I found a Rocketbook Wave at Best Buy while I was looking at smart notebooks, and decided even if it was a scam or a gimmick, it was still a notepad and a free pen. I’m happy to say it was neither of the first pair (but still both of the second!)

    The Rocketbooks are notebooks with pages with a black border, a small QR code, and a series of symbols at the bottom. You just write in it and you can slash or cross the symbols at the bottom to categorize that page. Later, you can scan it into your phone by holding your phone above each page you want to scan. The app automatically recognizes the page, captures the image, and automatically straightens and color-corrects it for you. The image(s) are saved to your phone and you can choose to send them. You can set up a different destination (email address, cloud service, folder in a cloud service, etc.) per symbol.

    You use a Pilot Frixxion pen that is very nicely erasable (via a friction eraser that generates heat). The Everlast and Mini have coated paper that can be wiped clean quickly with a tissue and a couple drops of water. The Wave which I have can be completely erased by putting it in the microwave (with half a mug of water so the microwave doesn’t cook itself) for about 4 minutes, flip once.

    The pens come in lots of colors and I think there are highlighters, and Rocketbook also sells single-use notepads and paper that you just use with any pen, or if you want to try it out you can get the free app and print a couple of sheets with the free letter-sized PDF they have on the site. There’s a model that works with colored dry erase markers, too.

    So there you have it: all the ease and convenience of paper-based notes with some pretty nice pens that I had never heard of but like quite a lot, with all the convenience of having digital copies, with none of the inconvenience of snapping a picture with my phone or using a flatbed scanner and having to crop and adjust it later.

    Other, more expensive options surely have their advantages, too (I love e-ink but am deeply skeptical of price versus value), but this is a very satisfying marriage of old tech and new tech.

  2. > Some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore.

    Cursive script was a side effect of drippy quill pens. You didn’t need cursive when you stabbed proper cuneiform into clay with a stick or scribed wax with a stylus.. And you don’t need cursive with a pencil or a modern ball-point pen.

    I was taught how to write in cursive. We were never taught how to read it; all our schoolbooks were in block letters. I can decode it if I squint from letter to letter, but I can’t actually *read* it. About the only cursive I’ve seen in decades was on product names and that’s becoming rare.

    Cursive has no reason to exist. Let it die.

    If you have a burning desire for “not block letters”, at least go with something that’s actually useful. I learned Gregg shorthand from a book, so I could take notes in meetings where “electronic devices” were forbidden. If nothing else, it’s amusing when your cow-orkers nod sagely when you tell them it’s Minbari script…

    • For some people with limited working memory, longhand helps them retain material better than block printing or typing do. Note, I’m just a teacher, not a neurologist, so I do not know why this seems to be true in those cases that I’ve observed, although I’d guess it has something to do with stimulating more parts of the brain to encourage memory and processing. For some individuals, cursive is a very useful tool. YMMV.

    • I always have to wonder about people who pine for the days of cursive as if that was some great achievement in civilization. Cursive is hard to read, especially other people’s cursive. Clear printing is what they should be teaching kids in school. I hate looking at historical documents (as you do when researching ancestry and the like) because it’s often so hard to read the form of cursive that was used back then.

      Personally, my handwriting ends up some weird Frankenstein monster mash-up of cursive and printing, where I form some letters like Fs and Ss entirely different depending on context and what letters are around them. It’s madness.

  3. I just bought a 5-subject, college-ruled notebook over the weekend for $1.49.

    That and a No. 2 pencil were all my budget could accommodate.

  4. Found some of my notes from six months ago that I can barely make out, but the story I saved over a decade ago as bits is easily read – what’s the problem again? 😉

    • I had to quit a bank because every time I wrote a check they would call asking if I actually wrote that check as the signature didn’t resemble their records. It never did. It never does.

      Of course, these were people who couldn’t figure out that a check drawing on my account to pay my taxes was very likely written by me.

      Good riddance to longhand.
      My block writing is bad enough as is.

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