Why your laptop is stopping you thinking

In the 1980s, poet Ted Hughes noticed that the children’s poems he was judging as part of a competition were getting longer. Some were running to nearly 100 pages. Although they were were fluent and often creative, Hughes described them as ‘strangely boring’. Rather than concentrated, condensed thought, they felt diluted and thin.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

He found that, rather than being hand-written, these longer, duller poems were composed on word processors. Introduced in 1985, domestic computers had made writing easier – so children wrote more words. The same applied in the office. As computers began to appear on desks, reports, memos and notes started to spin out ever longer. But ‘longer’ didn’t mean better – it just meant verbosity.

It’s about thinking, not tapping keys

Why? Only around 10% of writing is the physical act of putting words on a page. The rest – the part that really matters – is thinking. As more typed pages gave the illusion of weight and importance, the quality of thought plummeted.

Hughes believed when you write longhand “you meet the terrible resistance of what happened your first year at it, when you couldn’t write at all”. And that resistance forces you to think rather than just flail at a keyboard.

Physically writing helps you think better

That’s backed up by research from the University of Washington’s Professor Virginia Berninger. She found that the physical act of handwriting stimulates more of the brain than typing; you think better when you use a pen and paper.

So when you next sit down to write something for your colleagues or customers, turn the laptop off. It may be easy, but it’s stopping you thinking. Instead, turn your brain on and pick up a pen.

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