While pen and paper may seem poised on the edge of obscurity, writing by hand offers a bevy of brain-boosting perks that should not be lost to technology.
While I confess a love for many of the trappings of modernity, my inner Edith Wharton longs for the simple pleasures of a 19th century life. I daydream of sitting in the parlor writing letters to a sister or suitor, pages filled with swash-flourished script and the sound of an ink-dipped metal nib scratching along the paper. (And yes, my vision of Victorian living is completely romanticized and I'd likely not appreciate the lack of modern sanitation, medicine, human rights, and the like. But still.)
I loved when my daughters started learning cursive in school; and was shocked to hear from parents at other schools that their children weren't learning how to write in script. And indeed, as the Washington Post reported last year, the Common Core standards adopted by so many states no longer require teaching cursive in public schools.
But it appears the tide is turning, and the curly-cued linked letters – and block printing too – will not go down without a fight. A number of states are now requiring the teaching of cursive in schools, a revival encouraged by educators, researchers, parents and politicians. And it's a good thing. While typing and digital files have been great in stemming a tide of paper waste, when used judiciously, writing things by hand has numerous benefits that we should not be in a rush to lose sight of. Consider the following:
1. It improves learningA study published by the Association for Psychological Science found that taking notes in longhand, not laptop, improves comprehension, concluding that "laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning."
2. It encourages brain developmentA report in Psychology Today describes the importance to brain development of learning cursive, during the course of which "the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking." Brain imaging shows how engaged the brain is while learning cursive:
To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.
3. It makes for better compositionResearch reveals that students who write essays with a pen write more than those that used a keyboard; they also wrote faster and in more complete sentences.
4. It helps those with dyslexiaDeborah Spear, an academic therapist based in Great Falls, tells the Washington Post that cursive writing is an integral part of her work with students who have dyslexia. "Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly."
5. It keeps older brains sharpThe Wall Street Journal reports on research that finds that by engaging fine motor-skills, memory, and more, writing by hand acts as a good cognitive exercise for aging brains.
6. It helps to-do lists get doneOf handwriting lists and achieving goals, researcher Dr. Jordan Peterson tells Forbes: "It appears possible that writing, which is a formalized form of thinking, helps people derive information from their experiences that help them guide their perceptions, actions, thoughts and emotions in the present... Clarifying purpose and meaning into the future helps improve positive emotion, which is associated with movement towards important goals...."
7. It can soothe the nervesDr. Marc Seifer, a graphologist and handwriting expert, says that writing a soothing sentence is a type of "graphotherapy." Writing a sentence like "I will be more peaceful" at least 20 times per day can actually make on more peaceful, especially for those with attention problems. "This actually calms the person down and retrains the brain," Seifer says.
And to all of this I might add, there is a certain intentionality that comes with forming letters on paper; one that is lost when tapping plastic buttons. And if nothing else, there are few things that compare to receiving a handwritten letter in the mail (that gets delivered by a human being to a physical mailbox).
Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but some traditional skills are too lovely to lose ... especially when they come with so many benefits.