If someone asks you to note something, do you reach out to a pencil and a paper, type it on your laptop or cellphone, or audio-record it and later use a special software to decode it?
The 49th episode of the 6th season on Freakonomics features the topic of handwriting and its place in the modern world. A guest speaker Anne Trubek, a former college instructor and the author of a book about handwriting in present days, strongly argues that teaching penmanship is a waste of time and is detrimental to children’s both cognitive and physical development. On the contrary, researchers from Princeton University debunk Trubek’s argument by presenting study-experiment results of the effectiveness of note taking using laptop or a piece of paper. Lastly, listeners are acquainted with a young entrepreneur who owns a pencil shop where ordinary, unique, vintage pencils and accessories are traded.
Mrs. Trubek is firm in her stance declaring that handwriting is useless skill in the XXI century when technology is rapidly intervening in all spheres of our lives. Observing her son during his struggle to learn handwriting encouraged her to write an article and a book about uselessness of the skill. She argues that currently schools put too much emphasis on teaching how to write and ignore the value of words and ideas in writing. Trubek also talks about history specifying that penmanship has been used for only about 110 years and it isn’t something innate in our culture. Moreover, she rejects the studies that prove benefits of writing by hand saying they are funded by interested groups. For me, reasons and evidence Trubek provides are not convincing because, firstly, she gives an example of only her child and doesn’t provide other evidence; secondly, she is suspicious about results of the studies by prominent researchers but doesn’t take into account that use of technology could also be promoted by big tech corporations such as Microsoft or Apple.
A research conducted at Princeton University proved positive effect of handwriting for students’ cognitive development and learning. The study involved two groups of students: those, who use laptops for notetaking and those, who use handwriting. After a sequence of lectures, students who took notes by hand reported better absorption of the material and remembered info for a longer period. One of the explanations to that could that while handwriting, before you jot something you need to decide what to write and what to omit because you don’t have a luxury of writing every word. Thus, you process the information and note only the most important facts and you remember it better. Whereas students with laptops typed verbatim notes without much concentration on the content. Consequently, both straight after the lecture and after some time had passed conventional note-takers showed better results. Personally, traditional method of writing appeals to me more too. When writing by hand, I feel stronger connection with my mind and I’m generally more productive.
In the end, host of the show introduced the owner of a one-of-a-kind pencil shop where anyone can purchase a pencil(s) of his/her dreams. Even though there is widely-spread view that pencils are not popular anymore, revenues of this humble shop prove opposite. This may indicate that old writing methods are still prevalent and likely to persist despite of opposition.