Is Handwriting Becoming Extinct?

166521087(1)As communications professionals, we’ve seen a lot of changes in how people exchange information, moving from manual to digital. Certainly digital communications creates efficiencies, but does our new reliance on technology put the “art” of communication at risk?  When we share snippets of texts as short and efficient as possible instead of looking someone in the eyes and taking cues from tone and body language, what are we losing?

Martha Stewart’s Living magazine recently published a piece titled “Is Handwriting Becoming Extinct?”  According to this article, written by Joanne Chen, preliminary evidence suggests that writing with a keyboard doesn’t engage your brain the way writing with pen and paper does; it’s more detached and abstract. “We’re in a rush to digitize everything, as if fast and efficient are always positive things,” says Anne Mangen, a postdoctoral fellow at Oslo and Akershus University in Norway, who has written extensively on handwriting and the brain. “It’s worrisome that there’s not enough awareness to how movement can affect the mind”-whether it’s wielding a pen or thumbing through papers.

The article goes on to state studies that were done showing both preschoolers and adults learning a foreign alphabet retained more-and for a longer period of time-when they learned by writing rather than a computer.  Of course, they have long suggested that writing by hand-notes, diaries, lists-is helpful to those with memory loss.  As Thierry Olive, a research scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research, in Paris, explains, handwriting involves more movement than typing. “Handwriting is a visual-spatial activity,” says Olive, which might explain why you remember appointments better when you pen them on a calendar than when you type them into a smartphone.

It goes on to say, “Given the flourishes and filigrees of penmanship, it stands to reason that handwriting can foster creativity.  Or it may simply be that handwriting, more than typing, requires us to engage in activities that promote creativity-like slowing down and reflecting-which are worthwhile whether you’re mapping out a thank-you note, a novel, or a sales presentation. ‘Writing, in a creative sense, is a deep thought process that requires consideration and time,’ says Ronald Kellogg, a psychology professor at Saint Louis University and author of The Psychology of Writing (Oxford University Press).”

While none of us will be giving away our computers or smartphones anytime soon, knowing that “old school” handwriting helps our memory as well as it makes us more creative, well, that’s enough of a reason to do it more often.