5 Reasons You Write Things By Hand

Do you write? Though in love with keyboards, some of us still prefer to write things by hand. Why?

IF YOU’RE ADVENTUROUS ENOUGH TO READ THIS IN HAND WRITTEN FORM, click here.

My husband did something to annoy me when we were recently engaged. So he sent me a sweet “I’m sorry” e-card via 123greetings.com. Two years later, I wanted to see the card again. But 123greetings had deleted the card after 30 days of sending to make server space for new e-cards. Now how in the world am I supposed to remember the annoying thing my husband did so that I may be upset with him all over again?! I think I would have preferred a handwritten physical card.

#ThinkAboutThis.

Physical cards, letters or school notes have lost their once ubiquitous status. When keyboards became pervasive, we were happy to embrace the look of standardised typed text and emoticons that were easier on the eyes than the strokes and scribbles of people with poor writing.

There is obviously a plethora of apps to record ideas, jot notes down during a meeting or create prototypes for a product under development. Yet, some people still prefer to write things by hand every now and then not as a habit, but as a preference. I am one of them.

I am environmentally conscious, so it does often nag me that I’m using paper when trees have to be felled for them. However, our minds process certain information formats better than others. Some of ours happen to like handwritten things. Why? Here is what I postulate*:

  1. The Retro Effect
  2. Personalization
  3. Owenership
  4. Emphasis & Focus
  5. Narcissism or Sense of Accomplishment

1. THE RETRO EFFECT:

Hand writing things is now a rarity in many parts of the world. As is often the pattern with fashion, technology and life advise, something that was once popular has a steep decline, but 10+ years later it comes back creating an elevated interest. Look at how we embraced Instagram which made iPhone photos cooler by making them look like they were taken with a 1970s camera. This can be due to the retro effect. Our mind tends to yearn for something that we can no longer take for granted. That hand writing is now a rarity, its resurgence, albeit briefly in someone’s day can spark more attention or relation to the visual and written content.

2. PERSONALIZATION:

Watch Lakshmi Pratury’s TED Talk1 about the personal meaning of handwritten letters.

When I hand write letters to my parents or vice versa, the letter brings a sense of physicality to our interaction, albeit 11,000 miles apart. Reading my mum’s handwriting, I can almost hear her speaking those words, though these are written words. When my nephews send me a postcard, the child-crafted words let me more vividly imagine their curious explorations while on a holiday. I still have a hand-signed thank you note from a colleague although I deleted the email she sent me with more profuse “thanks”.

One can suppose the sentimentality of handwriting tugs more tightly at our memory strings of that person writing to us and how we relate to them.

3. OWNERSHIP:

For an experiment on behaviour modification, researchers in the UK tested the theory of hand writing things and owning that content2. A hospital wanted to curb no-show appointments. The researchers asked the patients to write their own appointments down instead of having the receptionists do it for them. Combined with other minor environmental modifications, no-shows were reduced by 30%. It appears that information in their own handwriting contributed to entrusting more responsibility to patients to abide by what they had written down by creating a sense of ownership to ‘their’ content.

4. EMPHASIS & FOCUS:

There are times when I need to keep myself from thinking about the end result of a blog or research piece in terms of fonts, page layout, images and other things, instead focusing only on the content. For such emphasis on the writing and content alone, I’ve found that the pen and paper approach is an excellent solution. This is an approach which keeps me focused on the words alone, leaving other elements temporarily out of priority.

5. NARCISSISM or ACCOMPLISHMENT:

When looking at something in your own writing, days or even years after having written it, it is nice to be able to recall the thought process that you may have gone through at the time of writing it. I felt this recently when looking at old grad school notes related to my thesis. It made me think about why I was considering that angle of inquiry. This has given me some thoughts for exciting future work.

Of course, I had to test whether typed up notes of similar content from the same time period kindled the same kinship to content. So I looked at a printed copy of a paper submitted for a class. I chose to test with a printed and not a soft copy in order to control for the feeling of physically holding a sheet of paper in my hand. There tends to be an emotional association with looking at handwriting that is a little less persistent when looking at typed text, even though they are both composed by the same person. Perform this test at home for yourself and share your finding here.

Is it that we all like the look of our handwriting because we are admiring our handiwork? Or perhaps we see a reflection of our personality in it? Does this imply narcissism? It doesn’t matter whether ones’ handwriting is good or bad.

Could it be that handwriting presents a stark uniqueness with the thought that “this is my writing and no one else can replicate it”, making a compelling argument that typed text never can? Is this indicative of a feat of accomplishment associating us with the cool, funny or ground-breaking or downright silly thoughts we had had a while ago?

It was an interesting exercise to ponder why I some times I prefer the physicality of writing things down by hand.

I do care significantly about the quantity of paper I use and the impact such consumption can have on the environment. A way to assuage my guilt has been to use the empty reverse side of junk mail I receive. This, I have convinced myself, is another form of recycling.

One thing is clear, though. No amount of typing my thoughts out gives the same degree of focus, engagement or emphasis as does using paper, ink and a dizzying array of multi-coloured post-it notes.

#ThinkAboutThis. And #ShareYourThoughts in the comments below or @culture_and.

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References:

  1. The Lost Art of Letter-Writing; Lakshmi Pratury; TED Talk; https://www.ted.com/talks/lakshmi_pratury_on_letter_writing?language=en; Filmed: March 2007; Viewed: 9 June 2015
  2. Writing Own Appointment Cards Could Save NHS £250m; Stephen Adams; The Telegraph; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/8666403/Writing-own-appointment-cards-could-save-NHS-250m.html; Published: 27 July 2011; Viewed: 15 July 2015

Related thoughts you might like:

  1. Handwriting: A Narcissist or a Selfless Person?
    Infographic on components of handwriting that reveal your personality
  2. Handwriting vs. Typing: Is Pen Still Mightier Than the Keyboard?
    Guardian article where a Professor of Psychology from the Univ. of Geneva outlines the cognitive benefits of hand writing skills
  3. Does Handwriting Still Matter in a Digital World? 
    HuffPost Books; Kitty Burns Foley, Author of “Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting”
  4. What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades
    New York Times article on relevance of hand writing in US schools
  5. Has Technology Ruined Handwriting?
    CNN review says 33% of people have trouble reading their own handwriting
  6. Handwritten Evidence; Catherine Quinn; The Guardian; http://www.theguardian.com/careers/handwriting-analysis; Published: 15 April 2009; Viewed: 15 July 2015
  7. Handwriting Analysis in Cancer Patients: Clinical-Radiological-Graphological Correlation; Buenos Aires; http://www.slideshare.net/frankmatozza/HRA-ADOBE-english-presentation; Posted on Slide Share by user Frank Matozza 01 March 2009; Viewed: 15 July 2015

Originally published at cultureand.net.