When I was a little girl and wandered away from my mother in the supermarket, she usually didn’t panic about it. After the first few times, she knew where to find me, so she often let me go my own way for at least a few minutes before she came to collect me.
I was always in the stationery aisle.
I wasn’t there because I needed anything specific for school. Most of the time, I didn’t even ask to buy anything. I just liked looking at the notebooks, picking them up to run my hand over the blank pages, turning to the middle and taking a nice deep whiff of the paper right near the binding. I sifted through the folders and checked for any loose pens that I could possibly test. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I loved about the stationery aisle was all of the potential in that blank paper and unopened glue bottles and unsharpened pencils.
When I was 9 years old, I visited Portugal for the first time and discovered that the Europeans have entire stores devoted to stationery. Oh the joy! There was – and still is – something magical about A4 sized paper when one grows up with 8 ½ x 11. The feel and smell of the notebooks were so delicate and exotic, and I was fascinated by the inexplicable (at the time) preponderance of graph paper (it’s used in handwriting lessons in Europe). And they had different, beautiful colors of ink for their pens.
To this day, I never return from Europe without a stash of stationery supplies.
Despite my deep, abiding love for a good college-ruled, black and white marbled composition notebook, it’s been a long time since I wrote essays or stories by hand. I remember when I did. I’d fill pages of loose leaf paper with false starts, cross-outs, arrows and carets, and the occasional stretches of unbroken text. When I was satisfied, I’d put the pages in the closest thing resembling a logical order, lay them next to a typewriter, and put them into a nice, clean typed essay.
These days, like most people, I write on my laptop. It’s easier to get some words out of my brain to make them visible, pliable, and dynamic. I can move my sentences around more easily to see how best to make my thoughts understandable and relatable. I can play with my words without making my hand hurt or creating a tiny mountain of eraser shavings. It’s a cleaner, more efficient way to write, which means I can spend more time focused on my ideas and their expression. Because it’s easier, using my computer means I write more as well, which makes my writing better.
The two exceptions are when I’m recording my thoughts or writing a letter to a friend (yes, I still write letters. ) I like to see my handwriting filling up the pages of a paper journal or a note card. I choose my pens carefully for these tasks, since handwriting can vary greatly and look messy if the point is too smooth or too rough, or if the stem is too thick or two thin. I tend to favor fountain pens.
I recognize that not everyone feels the same way about stationery supplies as I do, and I know that some might consider me a bit geeky and obsessed. Some may even accuse me of being a Neo-Luddite.
Enter MSN Living. That was where, a few days ago, I came across an article that explains how five of our most common bad habits could actually be beneficial. The first four were predictable: drinking too much coffee, multitasking too much, eating frozen food, procrastinating.
Then comes Number 5: “Clinging to low-tech habits: You still scribble on Post-its and hang a Hallmark calendar? S’ok! The tactile act of writing is better than keyboarding at activating the learning and recall parts of the brain. So noting the baseball-awards dinner in a datebook will make it less likely you’ll forget.”
I stared in shock for a minute or two before my objections and questions evolved further and became a bit more directed.
Human beings have been writing for 9,000 years, and suddenly in the past decade, the emergence of smart phones has made writing…a bad habit. A bad habit is a behavior that proves harmful or detrimental in some ways. The first four habits could conceivably be considered detrimental: too much caffeine can affect our health, as can the chemical preservatives and added sugar or fat in frozen meals. Dividing our attention in too many directions or procrastinating means we are less productive, which can affect our stress levels or job performance.
But writing something by hand? How is this harmful? If a paper calendar or note paper helps us remember, what’s the problem? How is using a Post-it instead is on par with filling my body with chemical preservatives and empty calories? Was the writer of this article grasping at straws to pad out the word count, or does she really believe that writing with a pencil is a bad habit and we should all instead be spraining our thumbs trying to type out notes on our slide-out qwerty keyboard? I refuse to believe I’m doing something bad and wrong because I’m still using a pen and paper to the same end as someone who prefers to use Outlook Calendar.
Let me make something clear. I don’t think it’s a bad habit to use a phone, iPad, or email calendar to remind us of tasks. I do use this function on my not-so-smart phone for certain things. If typing out a new idea or shopping list on an iPhone suits you and helps you be more productive, then knock yourselves out. But we seem to be far too quick to assume that newer is automatically better, and that anyone who “clings to low-tech habits” is somehow doing something wrong and harmful. We should not dismiss 9,000 years of writing knowledge and skill development just because we have a shiny new toy.
It’s a bad idea to dismiss low-tech behaviors or solutions en masse. Sure, sometimes technology really gives us better ways – not just newer ways – of doing something. But sometimes it just gives us different but equal options and we should choose the ones that suit ourselves the best. If we insist on unthinkingly replacing old ways with new, then we limit ourselves to just the new. Isn’t the point of progress to open horizons?
And besides, according to the article, writing something by hand is more beneficial to the learning process and development of memory.
Go ahead, learn new tricks, but don’t forget the value in the old ones.
Do you still like to write things by hand or have you gone high-tech?
Edited to add: I’ve corrected my spelling mistake, and ‘stationery’ is now spelled correctly! I hang my head in shame…but at least I feel better now that it’s corrected.