I read an interesting BBC article recently: ‘Why paper is the real killer app.’
Even though I use my laptop, phone and tablet a lot for work and socially, writing the old-fashioned way – using pen and paper – still has its place in my life.
And it seems there are plenty of people who agree with me.
The world is still (and will be for a few more years yet) made up of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ – younger people who have grown up with digital technology and others, like me, who can remember life before PCs, mobile phones and the internet and who have, mostly, embraced what this technology offers us.
Technology helps me a lot in my work and I really like having a wide range of entertainment available to me digitally. I can play or stream music, TV and films at home or while I’m out and about or easily find something to read from my library of e-books.
But this doesn’t mean I’ve relinquished the enjoyment of reading a printed book. I like the look and feel of them and reading one at bedtime doesn’t involve ‘blue light’ – exposure to which, too close to bedtime, is said to lead to a disrupted body clock and irregular sleep patterns.
Then there’s the luxury of a brand new journal or notepad, some brightly coloured post its, coloured pens and pencils – or my favourite pen that just seems to make my handwriting look beautiful rather than scrawly. I admit I’m a bit of a stationery nerd at heart!
The article quotes studies showing that students taking written notes had a better understanding of the material and remembered more of it than students who typed theirs. Apparently, people who doodle can recall what is, to them, dull information much more readily, too.
According to Arvind Malhotra, a professor at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, writing things down is about “getting your hands dirty” which helps innovation and creativity – aspects that can be lacking when using technology on its own.
He says:“… even in the digital age, innovation is sparked when you complement the digital with physical,” and he cites this as the reason that many technology firms still love whiteboards.
I’ve seen how powerful it can be for members of a group to write thoughts and ideas on post its and then stick them up on a whiteboard – clustering them, rearranging them, sharing them – planning projects, solving problems and identifying differences, similarities and themes.
Malhotra says: “Nearly 80% of the physical workspaces I have observed, that are considerably creative in their output, use whiteboards … What is really interesting is that in almost all the high-technology companies, those that make digital hardware and software, whiteboards are still a dominant method for creative stimulation and collaborating.”
So I’m not saying that we should ditch our technology, just that we often get more out of it (or IT), ourselves and others when we mix it up with occasional use of pen, paper, post its, whiteboards, etc.
This also works well for some individuals such as my coaching and counselling clients. Occasionally I invite them to write or draw something either while we’re together (face to face or online) or in between sessions. In my experience, “getting our hands dirty” can really help to unblock things when we’re stuck or struggling.
For example, ‘therapeutic writing’ can be useful in lots of situations. Keeping a journal can help to identify and track unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours and then build healthier ones. Writing a letter to someone who has died can be a surprisingly effective way of dealing with thoughts and feelings we were unable to express when they were alive, as well as whatever might be going on for us now.
So I’ll carry on mixing and matching my media – enjoying my technology but loving my pen and paper!