Column

Oliver: Should there be handwringing over handwriting?

If we stop for a moment and reflect on the number of ways technology has touched our lives, we might be surprised.

From the moment that iPhone alarm (or even that digital alarm clock) goes off until we turn off the television or shut down the tablet, our days are filled with gadgets and gizmos that a lot of us did not grow up with.

No doubt we can agree that a lot of them have made our lives easier and more organized. Or at least that’s what we hope.

Yet, in the process, we also have to admit that we might have lost a thing or two, as well.

For instance, how often do we open a book to find a piece of information? How often do we jot down a note using a pencil or pen?

Use it or lose it, the saying goes. I know that to be true in my case, as all of those Russian words I learned in college have buried themselves in the deep recesses of my brain, probably never to be seen or heard again.

Is that perhaps happening to our ability to write by hand? Are we losing something essential in the process?

Not surprisingly, Bic, a maker of pens and pencils, is running a “Fight For Your Write” campaign aimed at trying to reverse the trend. Perhaps you’ve seen the commercials being run on some TV stations. After all, the company’s profits are tied to how many ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils find their way into our hands.

However, Bic is hardly alone. Why, there’s even a National Handwriting Day (Jan. 23) and a Campaign for Cursive (sponsored by a chapter of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation).

Despite the ease and convenience of speaking into a smartphone or typing on a keyboard, studies have shown our brains actually benefit more from putting a pen or pencil to paper.

In fact, writing by hand uses more parts of the brain, coordinating both sides of the brain, William Klemm, a senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M, wrote in an article for Psychology Today. Writing also requires parts of the brain that aren’t activated by simply typing.

Cursive handwriting, as well as printing, requires practice and fine motor skills, combining thinking, motor control and sensation, Klemm wrote.

Elsewhere, a group of studies at Princeton University published last year compared students who took notes by laptop and those who wrote out their notes longhand. They found that the laptop users were able to re-create the lectures verbatim, but they scored lower when tested for retention than those who took notes by hand.

The reason? The researchers believe those who write by hand must decide what’s important as they go, perhaps engaging more of their brain and memory.

Other benefits of writing by hand could be a boost in creativity, increased cognitive skills and a calming effect. Handwriting also could be a way for seniors to keep their minds sharp.

That’s not to say that computers and other “smart” devices don’t have their place; clearly, they do. However, we all might be losing something if we don’t try to preserve some of the ways of the past.

Something to think – and write – about.

* * *

Note to readers: If last week’s column seemed vaguely familiar, there’s a reason. I inadvertently sent in a column that first published in 2013. I would love to blame technology, but this mistake was all user error. I apologize for any confusion this might have caused.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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