Why Is Typing Making You Stupid?


Do you write cursively with beautifully flowing,
looped letters or do you print? Actually, a more pressing question would be:
Do you write at all? Can you remember the last time you put pen
to paper, instead of finger to keyboard? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The statistics show that every year more and
more people are rapidly forgoing penmanship altogether in favour of typing, even for small
written tasks such as shopping lists or reminders on sticky notes, most of us have replaced
these with apps. A recent British survey found that one-third
of adults hadn’t written anything by hand in the past six months. I too am dangerously close to counting myself
amongst their number, but I think that’s a great shame. Furthermore, this trend is damaging to our
intelligence as a species. The humble pen, the great bastion of written
communication for over five-thousand years. The Sumerians created the first written communication
in 3200 BC in Mesopotamia when they carved out cuneiform script into stone. The foundation of Western freedoms Magna Carta
was inked into sheepskin with beautiful Latin cursive at Runneymeade in 1215. Then, in 1776 the Declaration of Independence
was signed, written in a 17th-century script called English Roundhand. Which was mostly superseded in the late nineteenth
century by Spencerian script – you have seen Spencerian script if you have ever seen, what
one could argue is a rather popular logo… this (coca cola). Handwriting is a deep part of our culture
but today there is a concerted yet contentious effort by schools worldwide to move children
away from the pen and in front of computer screens or in front of tablets, tapping away
like lemmings. The logic being that these devices are what
they will be using in the workplace anyway, so why get them accustomed to an antiquated
writing system that may be of little to no use in their career? I’ll tell you why. Have you ever been amongst a large crowd of
people talking at once, perhaps in a busy restaurant or at a dinner party? Maybe you are thoroughly engaged in a conversation
with somebody yourself. When, all of a sudden, from the noisy static
of the crowd your brain picks out a single word or sentence and you hear it as clear
as day, even from the other side of the room. It could be your name or a bit of gossip about
somebody you know. What just happened was your brain’s Reticular
Activating System (RAS) activated. At all times there are literally millions
of bits of data in your surroundings, noises, smells, sights, and physical sensations. This is far too much for your brain to comprehend. Multiple tests over the years have shown that
the brain is only capable of focusing on a maximum of four different things at once,
and even that is optimistic. Most of the time we focus on one to two things
simultaneously. So how does our brain decide from which of
the potentially millions of possible things to focus on are worth our current time and
attention? It employs a conductor. Sitting at the central base of the brain,
the brain’s doorway to sensory inputs, it acts as a filter. All the information around us is constantly
knocking on the door of our brain for further processing, it is the job of the RAS to decide
what to let in. When we put pen to paper the RAS is activated. Because writing requires fine motor control
and the majority of our focus our RAS can’t help but prioritise whatever we are currently
writing about as the most important processing job for our brain. Conversely, when text is typed every keystroke
is exactly the same, there is no difference in motor control between pressing the G key
to the A key. Once proficient our brains can type almost
autonomously, without much thought, and so the RAS can filter out much of the information
we are taking in whilst typing, a luxury it doesn’t have whilst writing. A 2010 study confirmed this with children. When they were asked to write words such as
‘spaceship’ by hand the areas of the brain associated with learning lit up. When they typed the same words, their brain
activity was a lot quieter, as though someone had turned off the lights. Put yourself in the hypothetical scenario
of viewing a University lecture and you must take notes so you can learn vital knowledge
for an upcoming exam. You have a choice of either using a laptop
or a simple notepad and pen to record your notes – which would you choose? If you chose the laptop then you are likely
to do much worse on the exam. As researchers, Pam Mueller from Princeton
and Daniel Oppenheimer from California University found out in a 2014 study. A group of students were asked to watch five
TED talks in a lecture hall and take notes on them. Half of the students were given laptops with
no internet connection, to prevent online distractions and the other half were given
only a pen and paper. After a 30 minute break, the participants
were asked a series of questions that required knowledge from the TED talks to answer. The students who took longhand notes performed
significantly better at answering the questions than the laptop note takers. Mueller and Oppenheimer think this is because
when we type notes we usually copy whatever the lecturer is saying verbatim without attempting
to summarise it. However, because handwriting is too slow to
write every single word being spoken we are forced to summarise the lecture’s main points. In doing so the brain spends much longer processing
the information it is taking in, Mueller and Oppenheimer refer to this process as ‘encoding’. Conversely, when we type the lecture notes
word-for-word we are using the laptop as external storage for our brain. Sure, we are hearing and recording every word
with keystrokes, but because this semi-automatic process requires little thought or contemplation
our brain is not actually processing (encoding) the information, it is merely entering our
ears and passing straight through our brain into our fingers. When notes are handwritten, because we must
think about the meaning of what is being said and summarise it in a very short amount of
time, a significantly higher amount of neural processing or ‘encoding’ is required. And so, even though we are taking far fewer
notes, overall we remember the notes we have written far, far better, than when typed. Furthermore, you are more likely to understand
the meaning behind those notes afterwards, instead of staring blankly at the five-thousand
word document on your computer screen and wanting to hammer your head into the keyboard
as you suddenly realise that you have absolutely no idea what any of it means. Interestingly, they repeated the study once
more, but this time allowed both groups to re-read and study their notes for some time
after the lectures. It would make sense that if the laptop notetakers
could revise their word-for-word notes they would then be able to remember more – but
astonishingly this made little difference on their learning – the longhand notetakers
still did much better. It seems that the encoding process the longhand
notetakers did when first hearing the information was invaluable for their retention and understanding. But to me, there is one overwhelming reason
we should fight to keep handwriting alive. Because it can be absolutely beautiful. Calligraphy is an art form and all those who
practice it desire to reach such a level of mastery that they are invited to an exclusive
society with a really cool and memorable name, the ‘International Association of Master
Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting’ – it may not have a pretty name, but my god
does it have a pretty logo. IAMPETH, as it is commonly shortened to are
an international organisation responsible for choosing master penmen. A master penman is a calligrapher who has
reached a distinguished level of mastery in calligraphic arts. There are many stages to qualify as a master
penman, but the final is they must rather aptly, create their own certificate. There are currently only twelve master penmen
in the world and they create beautiful works of art like these. Technology is amazing and if we all abandoned
it for the pen then the modern world would grind to a halt. But I think it’s really important that the
art form of writing by hand is kept alive as we rush ceaselessly into a technological
future. IAMPETH is certainly grasping to keep the
art of penmanship and all its history and culture alive, but twelve master penman can
only do so much. If we all try to take a moment every now and
then to simply pen a letter to a friend or if you’re feeling more adventurous, try
your hand at calligraphy then, collectively, we can preserve the very thing that built
our world. I believe that the best way to get started
with calligraphy is by joining Skillshare. Skillshare is an online learning community
with thousands of classes in writing, art and calligraphy. Premium Membership gives you unlimited access
to high-quality classes on must-know topics, so you can improve your skills, unlock new
opportunities, and do the work you love. Compared to the competition Skillshare is
really affordable: an annual subscription is less than $10 a month. Since Skillshare is sponsoring this video,
the first 500 people to use the promo link in the description will get their first 2
months free to try it out, risk-free. Thank you for watching. And thanks again to Skillshare for sponsoring
this video, be sure to click the link in the description if you want to start your journey
to becoming a master penman.

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