Is the pen mightier than the keyboard?

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-benefits-handwriting-decline-typing

Handwriting is the result of a singular movement of the body, typing is not.”

Furthermore pens and keyboards use very different media. “Word-processing is a normative, standardised tool,” says Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research centre in Paris. “Obviously you can change the page layout and switch fonts, but you cannot invent a form not foreseen by the software. Paper allows much greater graphic freedom: you can write on either side, keep to set margins or not, superimpose lines or distort them. There is nothing to make you follow a set pattern. It has three dimensions too, so it can be folded, cut out, stapled or glued.”

An electronic text does not leave the same mark as its handwritten counterpart either. “When you draft a text on the screen, you can change it as much as you like but there is no record of your editing,” Bustarret adds. “The software does keep track of the changes somewhere, but users cannot access them. With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”

Handwritten copy is fast disappearing from the workplace. Photograph: Alamy

But does all this really change our relation to reading and writing? The advocates of digital documents are convinced it makes no difference. “What we want from writing – and what the Sumerians wanted – is cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whichever technology we must use to record our thoughts,” Anne Trubek, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College in Ohio, wrote some years ago. “This is what typing does for millions. It allows us to go faster, not because we want everything faster in our hyped-up age, but for the opposite reason: we want more time to think.”

Some neuroscientists are not so sure. They think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, two researchers at the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, have carried out a study of 76 children, aged three to five. The group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. They repeated the experiment on adults, teaching them Bengali or Tamil characters. The results were much the same as with the children.

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

Although learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading, no one can say whether the tool alters the quality of the text itself. Do we express ourselves more freely and clearly with a pen than with a keyboard? Does it make any difference to the way the brain works? Some studies suggest this may indeed be the case. In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.

The study focused on more than 300 students at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles. It suggested that students who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions on the lecture than those using a laptop. For the scientists, the reason is clear: those working on paper rephrased information as they took notes, which required them to carry out a preliminary process of summarising and comprehension; in contrast, those working on a keyboard tended to take a lot of notes, sometimes even making a literal transcript, but avoided what is known as “desirable difficulty”.

On the basic issue of handwriting France has chosen to take the opposite course from the US. In the early 2000s the ministry of education instructed schools to start teaching cursive writing when pupils entered primary school [aged six]. “For a long time we attached little importance to handwriting, which was seen as a fairly routine exercise,” says school inspector Viviane Bouysse. “But in 2000, drawing on work in the neurosciences, we realised that this learning process was a key step in cognitive development.”

“With joined-up writing children learn words as blocks of letters, which helps with spelling,” Bouysse explains. “It’s important in a country where spelling is so complex! However, the ornamental capitals in the patterns published in the 2013 exercise books have been simplified, with fewer loops and scrolls […] They are important, though, because they distinguish proper names or the start of a sentence.”

Some handwriting advocates regret the disappearance of these ornamental effects. “It’s not just a question of writing a letter: it also involves drawing, acquiring a sense of harmony and balance, with rounded forms,” Jouvent asserts. “There is an element of dancing when we write, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text. After all that’s why emoticons were invented, to restore a little emotion to text messages.”

Writing has always been seen as expressing our personality. In his books the historian Philippe Artières explained how doctors and detectives, in the late 19th and early 20th century, found signs of deviance among lunatics and delinquents, simply by examining the way they formed their letters. “With handwriting we come closer to the intimacy of the author,” Jouvent explains. “That’s why we are more powerfully moved by the manuscript of a poem by Verlaine than by the same work simply printed in a book. Each person’s hand is different: the gesture is charged with emotion, lending it a special charm.”

Which no doubt explains the narcissistic relationship we often entertain with our own scrawl.

Despite omnipresent IT, Gentaz believes handwriting will persist. “Touchscreens and styluses are taking us back to handwriting. Our love affair with keyboards may not last,” he says.

“It still plays an important part in everyday life,” Bustarret adds. “We write by hand more often than we think, if only to fill in forms or make a label for a jam jar. Writing is still very much alive in our surroundings – in advertising, signing, graffiti and street demonstrations.” Certainly the graphic arts and calligraphy are thriving.

Perhaps, in their way, they compensate for our soulless keyboards.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

… we have a small favour to ask. Tens of millions have placed their trust in the Guardian’s fearless journalism since we started publishing 200 years ago, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. More than 1.5 million supporters, from 180 countries, now power us financially – keeping us open to all, and fiercely independent.

Unlike many others, the Guardian has no shareholders and no billionaire owner. Just the determination and passion to deliver high-impact global reporting, always free from commercial or political influence. Reporting like this is vital for democracy, for fairness and to demand better from the powerful.

And we provide all this for free, for everyone to read. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of the global events shaping our world, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action. Millions can benefit from open access to quality, truthful news, regardless of their ability to pay for it.

If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as £1 – it only takes a minute.
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Handwriting is the result of a singular movement of the body, typing is not.”

Furthermore pens and keyboards use very different media. “Word-processing is a normative, standardised tool,” says Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research centre in Paris. “Obviously you can change the page layout and switch fonts, but you cannot invent a form not foreseen by the software. Paper allows much greater graphic freedom: you can write on either side, keep to set margins or not, superimpose lines or distort them. There is nothing to make you follow a set pattern. It has three dimensions too, so it can be folded, cut out, stapled or glued.”

An electronic text does not leave the same mark as its handwritten counterpart either. “When you draft a text on the screen, you can change it as much as you like but there is no record of your editing,” Bustarret adds. “The software does keep track of the changes somewhere, but users cannot access them. With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”

Handwritten copy is fast disappearing from the workplace. Photograph: Alamy

But does all this really change our relation to reading and writing? The advocates of digital documents are convinced it makes no difference. “What we want from writing – and what the Sumerians wanted – is cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whichever technology we must use to record our thoughts,” Anne Trubek, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College in Ohio, wrote some years ago. “This is what typing does for millions. It allows us to go faster, not because we want everything faster in our hyped-up age, but for the opposite reason: we want more time to think.”

Some neuroscientists are not so sure. They think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, two researchers at the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, have carried out a study of 76 children, aged three to five. The group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. They repeated the experiment on adults, teaching them Bengali or Tamil characters. The results were much the same as with the children.

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

Although learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading, no one can say whether the tool alters the quality of the text itself. Do we express ourselves more freely and clearly with a pen than with a keyboard? Does it make any difference to the way the brain works? Some studies suggest this may indeed be the case. In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.

The study focused on more than 300 students at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles. It suggested that students who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions on the lecture than those using a laptop. For the scientists, the reason is clear: those working on paper rephrased information as they took notes, which required them to carry out a preliminary process of summarising and comprehension; in contrast, those working on a keyboard tended to take a lot of notes, sometimes even making a literal transcript, but avoided what is known as “desirable difficulty”.

On the basic issue of handwriting France has chosen to take the opposite course from the US. In the early 2000s the ministry of education instructed schools to start teaching cursive writing when pupils entered primary school [aged six]. “For a long time we attached little importance to handwriting, which was seen as a fairly routine exercise,” says school inspector Viviane Bouysse. “But in 2000, drawing on work in the neurosciences, we realised that this learning process was a key step in cognitive development.”

“With joined-up writing children learn words as blocks of letters, which helps with spelling,” Bouysse explains. “It’s important in a country where spelling is so complex! However, the ornamental capitals in the patterns published in the 2013 exercise books have been simplified, with fewer loops and scrolls […] They are important, though, because they distinguish proper names or the start of a sentence.”

Some handwriting advocates regret the disappearance of these ornamental effects. “It’s not just a question of writing a letter: it also involves drawing, acquiring a sense of harmony and balance, with rounded forms,” Jouvent asserts. “There is an element of dancing when we write, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text. After all that’s why emoticons were invented, to restore a little emotion to text messages.”

Writing has always been seen as expressing our personality. In his books the historian Philippe Artières explained how doctors and detectives, in the late 19th and early 20th century, found signs of deviance among lunatics and delinquents, simply by examining the way they formed their letters. “With handwriting we come closer to the intimacy of the author,” Jouvent explains. “That’s why we are more powerfully moved by the manuscript of a poem by Verlaine than by the same work simply printed in a book. Each person’s hand is different: the gesture is charged with emotion, lending it a special charm.”

Which no doubt explains the narcissistic relationship we often entertain with our own scrawl.

Despite omnipresent IT, Gentaz believes handwriting will persist. “Touchscreens and styluses are taking us back to handwriting. Our love affair with keyboards may not last,” he says.

“It still plays an important part in everyday life,” Bustarret adds. “We write by hand more often than we think, if only to fill in forms or make a label for a jam jar. Writing is still very much alive in our surroundings – in advertising, signing, graffiti and street demonstrations.” Certainly the graphic arts and calligraphy are thriving.

Perhaps, in their way, they compensate for our soulless keyboards.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

… we have a small favour to ask. Tens of millions have placed their trust in the Guardian’s fearless journalism since we started publishing 200 years ago, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. More than 1.5 million supporters, from 180 countries, now power us financially – keeping us open to all, and fiercely independent.

Unlike many others, the Guardian has no shareholders and no billionaire owner. Just the determination and passion to deliver high-impact global reporting, always free from commercial or political influence. Reporting like this is vital for democracy, for fairness and to demand better from the powerful.

And we provide all this for free, for everyone to read. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of the global events shaping our world, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action. Millions can benefit from open access to quality, truthful news, regardless of their ability to pay for it.

If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as £1 – it only takes a minute.
SingleMonthlyAnnual£5 per month£10 per monthOther

ContinueRemind me in January

Accepted payment methods: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and PayPal

Topics

Handwriting is the result of a singular movement of the body, typing is not.”

Furthermore pens and keyboards use very different media. “Word-processing is a normative, standardised tool,” says Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research centre in Paris. “Obviously you can change the page layout and switch fonts, but you cannot invent a form not foreseen by the software. Paper allows much greater graphic freedom: you can write on either side, keep to set margins or not, superimpose lines or distort them. There is nothing to make you follow a set pattern. It has three dimensions too, so it can be folded, cut out, stapled or glued.”

An electronic text does not leave the same mark as its handwritten counterpart either. “When you draft a text on the screen, you can change it as much as you like but there is no record of your editing,” Bustarret adds. “The software does keep track of the changes somewhere, but users cannot access them. With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”

Handwritten copy is fast disappearing from the workplace. Photograph: Alamy

But does all this really change our relation to reading and writing? The advocates of digital documents are convinced it makes no difference. “What we want from writing – and what the Sumerians wanted – is cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whichever technology we must use to record our thoughts,” Anne Trubek, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College in Ohio, wrote some years ago. “This is what typing does for millions. It allows us to go faster, not because we want everything faster in our hyped-up age, but for the opposite reason: we want more time to think.”

Some neuroscientists are not so sure. They think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, two researchers at the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, have carried out a study of 76 children, aged three to five. The group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. They repeated the experiment on adults, teaching them Bengali or Tamil characters. The results were much the same as with the children.

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

Although learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading, no one can say whether the tool alters the quality of the text itself. Do we express ourselves more freely and clearly with a pen than with a keyboard? Does it make any difference to the way the brain works? Some studies suggest this may indeed be the case. In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.

The study focused on more than 300 students at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles. It suggested that students who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions on the lecture than those using a laptop. For the scientists, the reason is clear: those working on paper rephrased information as they took notes, which required them to carry out a preliminary process of summarising and comprehension; in contrast, those working on a keyboard tended to take a lot of notes, sometimes even making a literal transcript, but avoided what is known as “desirable difficulty”.

On the basic issue of handwriting France has chosen to take the opposite course from the US. In the early 2000s the ministry of education instructed schools to start teaching cursive writing when pupils entered primary school [aged six]. “For a long time we attached little importance to handwriting, which was seen as a fairly routine exercise,” says school inspector Viviane Bouysse. “But in 2000, drawing on work in the neurosciences, we realised that this learning process was a key step in cognitive development.”

“With joined-up writing children learn words as blocks of letters, which helps with spelling,” Bouysse explains. “It’s important in a country where spelling is so complex! However, the ornamental capitals in the patterns published in the 2013 exercise books have been simplified, with fewer loops and scrolls […] They are important, though, because they distinguish proper names or the start of a sentence.”

Some handwriting advocates regret the disappearance of these ornamental effects. “It’s not just a question of writing a letter: it also involves drawing, acquiring a sense of harmony and balance, with rounded forms,” Jouvent asserts. “There is an element of dancing when we write, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text. After all that’s why emoticons were invented, to restore a little emotion to text messages.”

Writing has always been seen as expressing our personality. In his books the historian Philippe Artières explained how doctors and detectives, in the late 19th and early 20th century, found signs of deviance among lunatics and delinquents, simply by examining the way they formed their letters. “With handwriting we come closer to the intimacy of the author,” Jouvent explains. “That’s why we are more powerfully moved by the manuscript of a poem by Verlaine than by the same work simply printed in a book. Each person’s hand is different: the gesture is charged with emotion, lending it a special charm.”

Which no doubt explains the narcissistic relationship we often entertain with our own scrawl.

Despite omnipresent IT, Gentaz believes handwriting will persist. “Touchscreens and styluses are taking us back to handwriting. Our love affair with keyboards may not last,” he says.

“It still plays an important part in everyday life,” Bustarret adds. “We write by hand more often than we think, if only to fill in forms or make a label for a jam jar. Writing is still very much alive in our surroundings – in advertising, signing, graffiti and street demonstrations.” Certainly the graphic arts and calligraphy are thriving.

Perhaps, in their way, they compensate for our soulless keyboards.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

… we have a small favour to ask. Tens of millions have placed their trust in the Guardian’s fearless journalism since we started publishing 200 years ago, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. More than 1.5 million supporters, from 180 countries, now power us financially – keeping us open to all, and fiercely independent.

Unlike many others, the Guardian has no shareholders and no billionaire owner. Just the determination and passion to deliver high-impact global reporting, always free from commercial or political influence. Reporting like this is vital for democracy, for fairness and to demand better from the powerful.

And we provide all this for free, for everyone to read. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of the global events shaping our world, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action. Millions can benefit from open access to quality, truthful news, regardless of their ability to pay for it.

If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as £1 – it only takes a minute.
SingleMonthlyAnnual£5 per month£10 per monthOther

ContinueRemind me in January

Accepted payment methods: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and PayPal

Topics

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