WRITING BATTLE: pen, paper OR laptop, tablet

The pen has proven to be mightier than the sword. It may also do in technology.


A new tablet, the reMarkable tablet, may finally vanquish pen and paper in the battle of writing superiority.

While spending more than 3 years developing a paper tablet, the reMarkable tablet company has produced a new tablet to be launched in 2017. The company dove deeply into understanding the benefits of writing with a pen versus on a keyboard. Here’s a short synopsis of some of the research they uncovered along the way.

For many, little beats the feeling of leading a sharp pencil over an empty, white sheet of paper. For others, the keyboard is king. It’s been important to understand the subtle differences between the pen and the keyboard, and perhaps the most important — why so many people still use pen and paper even though typing on a keyboard is faster.

As it turns out, pen and paper doesn’t only just feel good, research shows writing by hand in some ways is superior when it comes to learning, creativity, and productivity.

“Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen, and not a shadow of an idea of what you are going to say.”
– writer and novelist Françoise Sagan


Studies found that the pen is mightier than the keyboard in many ways. Mueller and Oppenheimer, from Princeton and University of California respectively, found that students taking notes on computers performed worse than students taking notes by hand. Typing lecture notes on a keyboard causes more shallow processing of content, restraining the notes to a mere, shallow transcription, as the mind is in sleep mode. Writing by hand, on the other hand is more efficient for processing information and consequently, learning.

Virginia Berninger, a psychologist from the University of Wisconsin, found writing by hand forged creativity and sparked ideas, as the sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with remembering and processing information. Also, the time aspect of writing by hand influences cognitive processes. It slows you down — in a good way — and forges creativity and ideas.

“Paper allows much greater graphic freedom: you can write on either side, keep to set margins or not, superimpose lines or distort them. There is nothing to make you follow a set pattern.”
– Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research center in Paris

Writing has been seen as expressing personality. Historian Philippe Artières writes in his books how doctors and detectives found signs of deviance among mad men, by examining the way they formed their letters.

The written word can also uncover early traces of changing personalities, such as cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. In 2003, Peter Garrard, a professor of neurology, with an expertise in dementia in his research found out that changes in a writer’s vocabulary could tell if the person had early stages of dementia.

Inspired by Garrard, other scientists have found indications of early stages of dementia in the writings of famous people like Agatha Christie and Ronald Reagan.

Creative intellectuals prefer a pen experience

Also, current writers use pen and paper to write books, novels and movie scripts.

As a scriptwriter, filmmaker and actor, Quentin Tarantino seems to have a lot of time on his hands. He ritually writes all his scripts longhand, on paper.
“I’ve always equated the writing process with editing, sort of like when I get through editing the movie, that’s like my last draft of the screenplay.“
                                                                        – Quentin Tarantino

Writing by hand sets a strong intention, helps you plan, organize and creates a clear focus — which inevitably leads to getting things done. A handwritten spreadsheet, for example, is what J. K. Rowling used to outline the story that became Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

This piece of lined paper contains part of the handwritten plot spreadsheet J.K Rowling used to write Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Source: Openculture.com

As current writers as J.K. Rowling and Quentin Tarantino use paper in their work of art, we can only imagine how bygone writers and great thinkers like Henrik Ibsen, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Shakespeare or George Orwell would act today. Would they use a keyboard when writing, or would they write with a pen to tell their everlasting stories?

Digital distractions are disrupting our minds
Science proves the common experience of digital disruption, suggesting that digital gadgets, even when used solely to take notes, impair learning, effectivity and concentration. Technology is practical and efficient, but distancing and distracting.

George R. R. Martin, the author of the book series Game of Thrones is based on, is medieval in many ways, but his methods are highly relevant for the digital age. Martin writes on a minimalist word processor disconnected from the internet.

“I actually like it. It does everything I want a word processing program to do and it doesn’t do anything else. I don’t want any help, you know? I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital. I don’t want a capital. If I wanted a capital I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.”
_______________________________– George R.R. Martin

“Web surfing is the new second-hand smoke”, technology writer for The Times wrote in a piece on how to deal with digital distractions. A Stanford study proved that most people are useless at multitasking — juggling different cognitive tasks at once. Most of the time, it just results in a lowered attention span and the individual tasks not getting the attention they deserve.

What has this to do with a digital tablet?
By making a digital paper tablet, we’re working on combining the best of two worlds —the best capabilities of the computer and the distraction free, creativity forging pen on paper.

To make sure we develop a product that works for paper people around the world, we look at techniques and the science behind how some of the world’s greatest thinkers work.

Perhaps someday, even George R. R. Martin, J. K. Rowling or Quentin Tarantino can take the leap into the digital space. Not because they’re forced to, but because they have a tool that is good enough, but also adds value to the way they work and think.

More about reMarkable tablets : click HERE

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