Clive Thompson at collision detection posed an interesting question in his blog today: “can you think better when you’re typing?” I’ve found, at least for the past 10 years, that the quality of my writing is far better when I type than when I write. I’m not sure if it’s because I can type very fast or because I can easily make changes to what I wrote or if there is a deeper reason. Thompson discusses a New York Times article that discusses how school-aged children are losing their ability to easily print and write in cursive because they have grown up using the computer. I can certainly empathize. I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to not writing, until I had to write thank-you notes after my wedding. It was so difficult to put pen to paper; it took a much greater mental effort than it would have had I just typed what I wanted to say. This observation is consistent with the findings of the New York Times article:

Professor Graham’s study of elementary school pupils indicated a link between their difficulty in handwriting and weaknesses in the grammar and content of their compositions. One reason, quite simply, is that a brain struggling to make a hand form letters does not devote enough attention to more advanced tasks.

So in an already tight curriculum, should schools spend more time teaching children to write properly? Perhaps. Considering the amount of writing young people have to do for school exams and the SATs — which now have a composition component — it is important that they do not have to expend a tremendous amount of effort just trying to write legibly. Schools should at least ensure that students are in the practice of putting pen(cil) to paper with in-class writing assignments. I know teachers probably hate to read 30 or more papers written by hand, but they are doing a great disservice to their students in having them type everything. I’m sure in the future students will take the SATs electronically and will bring some sort of computer with them wherever they go. But for now, there are still reasons why school-aged kids need the ability to write.

Once school’s over, though, it’s quite easy to get out of practice, especially for those of us who were the first generation to grow up with a computer at home. When I was a social worker, I initially had to write all of my case notes by hand. But when I went back to grad school, I typed everything, including my class notes. If I had to write case notes now, I’d probably spend over 50% of my time on them. When I have to write a job application or a letter by hand, I find it a major chore compared to filling out an online form or dashing off an email. Typing is just how I work best. I guess some people will bemoan the death of penmanship, but this is simply what happens when new technologies arrive on the scene and make tasks easier. And for left-handed folks like my husband, computers have really leveled the playing field. It’s difficult to write as a leftie in a right-handed world, but anyone — even someone like me who got a U (unacceptable) in penmanship in fourth grade — can become a fast typist with practice.

How many of you find is easier to write than type? Are there certain things you do better when you write them on paper versus typing them on the computer?