3 occasions when the pen is still mightier than the gadget

On WebWorkerDaily there is no shortage of pieces highlighting the latest collaboration and productivity tools to help you get more done wherever you work, from idea management systems to newfangled communications channels. But just because so many cool new gadgets and apps are available doesn’t mean the old standbys are completely obsolete.

Pen and paper may be hovering somewhere between retro and extinct these days, but Kevin Purdy, for one, feels that there is still a place for ballpoints and notepads in our lives. Writing on Fast Company, Purdy highlights tasks he believes are better suited to exercising your (probably rapidly deteriorating) handwriting:

  • Lightning-strike ideas. “Carrying a notebook with you at all times is cheap and easy,” writes Purdy, and, according to Marina Martin, a business efficiency consultant quoted in the article, “even the most fluid, thoughtful electronics introduce too much friction into the process of thinking, writing down, then thinking further out.” Pen and paper is better for recall as well. “By committing your thought to paper, you’re also doing more to lock it into place,” writes Purdy. “Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, has the brain scans to prove it.”
  • Better to-do lists. “The role of paper is ‘changing from information recording and archiving, to a more temporary role of containing transient information,’ says Jenny Englert, senior cognitive engineer at Xerox,” writes Purdy, who continues, “In other words, paper still makes for a great to-do list.”
  • Jobs and events that seem overwhelming. “One thing that reliably helped very smart students with major test anxiety was writing about their anxieties to ‘off-load’ them. And that was very specifically noted as ‘writing,’” says Purdy, citing the work of psychologist Sian Beilock, an expert on choking under pressure.

Purdy’s article is lengthy and well worth a read, going into much more detail about why these situations are best handled with old-fashioned tools, but a rough outline of his argument is a great spark to get gadget lovers thinking about what situations, if any, still call for a pen.

Personally, my to-do lists have long ago gone electronic and I’m perfectly happy with that, but I agree that handwriting still channels emotions better, whether as a diary-like anxiety-control exercise or in that supremely old school gesture, the personal note or letter.

When, if ever, do you still reach for a pen?

At Net:Work 2011 this week we will discuss how the way we work is being transformed by breakthrough tools. The event will be held in San Francisco on Thursday, Dec. 8. 

Image courtesy of Flickr user ElvertBarnes