Lifelong love affair with paper 1


Top of my list of things never to leave home without? (Aside from the obvious, like keys, phone and wallet.) Pen and paper.

I always try to be in close proximity to a notebook and a pen or two. This is a habit I maintain, despite the fact that writing on paper seems to have gone out of fashion. Both the writing part and the paper part. Handwriting is of another era. Dead tree produce is widely scorned in this digital age.

“DEFINITION: dead tree

A hard copy of a book. That is, a physical series of papers, composed
primarily of non-living organic matter originating from trees,
that are bound together into a single volume.

“Carrying all these dead trees around campus is really hurting my back.”

Urban Dictionary

No apps please

When there’s a note to be taken you are meant to whip out your cellphone, tap an app and start typing. Not me. I have a strong aversion to those tiny keyboards made for infant-sized fingers.

tiny fingers for the tiny phone keyboard

Maybe this would work better: tiny fingers for the tiny phone keyboard (credit: Gawker Media)

It’s not just the awkward typing that puts me off phone note-taking. It’s the whole process of saving what I have written. And then remembering where it was saved. Or – ever more problematic as the years go by – even remembering I ever made the note, much less thinking of looking for it later.

Hence my continued reliance on pen and notebook. I have a special place in my bag where I keep these vital tools, so they’re always ready to hand. My notebook is clearly visible when I rummage in my bag. So when I get home after experiencing whatever revelation it was that I deemed notable, I will not forget to read what I’ve written. I have a stockpile of notebooks and pens strategically placed in key points around my house. So I can quickly grab one of each whenever the need arises.

I enjoy the act of putting pen to paper. I revel in the physical process of writing. I find the deterioration of handwriting rather disturbing. It seems that cursive writing is hardly taught any more. Young people do not seem to own pens. I don’t know how they cope.

In case I am sounding overly romantic – or worse yet, pedantic – my apologies. Please note that I am not advocating writing because it’s comfortably Old School. I am actually a high speed typist and happily spend much of my day with fingers to (adult-sized) keyboard.

Study shows: paper trumps screen

I simply believe that writing by hand still serves a function. Therefore I am pleased to report that the practice of handwriting, dated though it may be, has been scientifically proven to have value.

I love being vindicated by studies that confirm the merit in my way of doing things. So I was thrilled to come across research by the Association for Psychological Science showing that taking notes with a pen and paper is indeed better than typing. If your goal is to remember the information, that is. Which, ever more as the years pass, is a key focus for me.

This study of a cohort of students shows that writing by hand improves the learning process and is better for later recall.

“Those who took notes in longhand did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment, better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures.”

Psychological Science journal, 2014

Even taking fewer notes, with less recording of verbatim quotes, those students using pen and paper were able to master “higher-order conceptual learning” better than those who took notes on their digital devices. Another relevant finding is that typing on a keyboard can make you remember less, for it can be purely “mindless processing”.

typing fingers

So how does one best deploy these vindicated super-tools? I use my notebooks for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, of course, pen and paper are your friends when you want to remember something. I’m able to quickly scribble down a number – whether phone or license plate. I write down thoughts and ideas, quotable quotes.

Lists and more lists

I confess to devoting a lot of paper and ink to lists. Of things to do, to buy, to research, to read, to watch, to attend, to book, to eat, to drink, to make… Listmaking is an entire sub-category worth exploring separately, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Compulsive listmakers, you know who you are.

You may feel I am again veering perilously close to what I vowed not to do. Geezer Grousing. Burdening others with one’s yearning for the Old Days, and annoying the youth.

So check out this rationale for notebook addiction which combines the wisdom of age with the hipness of youth. My fixation with pen and paper ties into that much praised practice of Living in the Moment AKA Mindfulness. If I’m really enjoying the moment of an experience, it may also be gratifying to remember it later. And frustrating to be thinking, now what happened the other day (or earlier today) that was so meaningful / moving / fun?

I can just open my notebook and relive those moments.

In closing, here’s a lovely precis on Notebook Keeping from a top US author and journalist:

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle… Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”

– Joan Didion,“On keeping a notebook” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Joan Didion

Joan Didion, born 1934


One comment on “Lifelong love affair with paper

  1. Reply Lanna Oct 21,2016 2:44 am

    Cheers! And thanks for sharing “Love for Paper”. Some of us
    actually keep a daily journal { which we never reread] but it
    sure helps to write out those frustrations and maybe little perks
    that make up our days.

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