Have you written a letter, lately? Do you take meeting notes on paper, or have you switched to typing ideas into your tablet?
Most of us grew up required to learn handwriting and cursive—skills that were practiced each and every year—and many of us still prefer taking notes by hand rather than digitally. If you have young kids in school now, you may have noticed a shift. Common Core standards require handwriting to be covered for just a couple of years, before quickly moving on to typing skills. And some studies say this may be impacting how we learn and absorb new material.
The science: How writing vs. typing activates different parts of our brain
This article in the New York Times highlights some of the interesting studies surrounding how writing vs. typing activates different parts of our brain. And the studies show that handwriting actually results in the generation of more ideas. In a University of Washington study that followed a group of 2nd-5th graders, handwriting and typing processes resulted in some very different outcomes:
“When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.”
This topic is so interesting to me; I actually wrote my college thesis on how digitization is changing the artistic process, and this ties right into some of the concepts I researched. Creating work digitally literally activates different parts of our brain. And losing touch with those hand-driven processes may mean we’re missing out on some of our most creative ideas. Much like how good digital art programs still require drawing classes (practicing drawing skills helps an artist develop an understanding of perspective and space, and forces a habit of truly seeing and studying objects in detailed and meaningful ways), maintaining handwriting skills could be an essential brain exercise when it comes to maximizing ideation.
Next time you’re ready to dive into a new project brainstorm, try a handwritten (or hand-drawn) approach. It may not be as easy to shoot off in an email, but it might result in ideas you’d have otherwise overlooked.