Newer Isn’t Always Better: Why Writing by Hand is Worth It

Culture — By on April 5, 2013 at 7:00 am

The term “modern technology” often calls to mind significant inventions from the last century that have made life more convenient, smoother, and faster—cars, microwaves, the Internet, smart phones, the list goes on. Technology has spurred the world from a leisurely walk into a head-long sprint.

Central to this list of life-changing inventions is basic word-processing software—bet you didn’t see that one coming. Most of us don’t think of the keyboard as a significant factor for speedy 21st-century life, but replacing the physical pen has allowed us to communicate faster and more efficiently, widening the gap between what is considered “modern” and “old-fashioned.”

The ability to write at twice the speed is not always a good thing. While I am a huge fan of word-processing, writing by hand does offer certain benefits that are lost when we only use a computer screen.

The physical act of writing makes you slow down. In the age of one-minute oatmeal, drive-through coffee, and online shopping, taking an extra 3.4 seconds to write out a word instead of typing it makes the process seem painfully tedious. However, God didn’t create humans to run through life without ever slowing down. He instructed the Israelites to keep the Sabbath so that they could recharge physically, mentally, and emotionally. Christ said that the Sabbath was made for man—to benefit and restore him. We can use writing by hand—whether in a letter to a friend, a journal entry, or even hand writing class or meeting notes—to clear our heads.

Often when I sit down to my journal, my thoughts are jumbled from a busy day or conflicting emotions. I quickly become frustrated at the slow pace with which my pen forms words on a page and I want to quit. But if I stick with it, I find that eventually my busy mind too slows to a walk, and I’m able to think more clearly. I come away with a better grasp on myself, my relationship with others, and my present circumstances.

Writing by hand is more personal than a typed page. There is something to be said about the imperfection of hand-written words. The inconsistencies of the font, the crossed-out or modified words, the various colored inks, tell a story in themselves. Writing by hand is more interactive than typing, because I am responsible for the style, legibility, and flavor of the words I write, while sitting at a computer produces perfectly straight rows of uniform characters, and my thoughts become standardized even as I transfer them from my mind onto the screen. Typing is an exercise of efficiency—writing by hand is an art.

When email first became popular, it was so exciting to receive a new message in the inbox. Now, however, checking email is a chore. We are barraged with a myriad of messages from people wanting us to do things we wish to avoid: cheesy advertisements, business or school information, even dental check-up reminders. On the other hand, receiving a personal, hand-written letter through snail mail is a rare—but thrilling—event. Bringing in the mail is best during the Christmas season because of the joy of receiving Christmas cards and annual letters from friends and family. I value a hand-written Christmas card much more than a picture sent through email because I know it took extra time to physically write and send the letter.

This same principle applies indirectly to reading the written word, as well. While I own a Kindle, I always read my printed Bible because of its tactile nature. I also prefer to take notes in a physical copy of a book, rather than add a note or highlight to digital text. Taking notes on a smart phone, e-reader or tablet does keep a record of words, but it also detracts from personal involvement with the text. My printed Bible is precious to me, not only because it contains words inspired by the Spirit, but also because it has my scribbles, underlines, arrows, stars and smiley faces all over it in different colors—all in my own hand.

I’m not suggesting we completely abandon typing in favor of pen and ink. Besides the convenience of added speed, typing allows a document to look professional and uniform, and for many people, solves an issue of legibility. What I do suggest is that we not automatically go to our computers or iPads when dealing with words. Consider keeping a hand-written journal, taking notes in a notebook, or writing a letter to a friend. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but newer isn’t always better.