Written word has enduring power

We may be writing less and less as we rely more and more on technology, but we're losing out because handwriting is actually good for us. It ensures better comprehension of information and can also relax us.

Jan D’Sa uses calligraphy for meditation. Reem Mohammed / The National

Writing longhand brings out “the creative in me”, says Jan D’Sa, the owner of a communications business in Dubai.

Ms D’Sa, 41, says that the power of the pen is “indescribable” – yet in the digital age the keyboard and stylus are taking its place.

She took two degrees in the sciences – she has a bachelor’s in chemistry, botany and zoology and a master’s in molecular biology and genetics – and says she would draw and write chemical formulas, reactions and molecular structures “over and over until they got imprinted in my mind like images”.

At weekends she enjoyed doodling, sketching and writing longhand. “It was a good way to refocus the brain and to balance the creative in me with the technically minded person,” she says. “Sometimes you need to get away from electronics.”

National Handwriting Day was celebrated this week on Monday, having been established by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers’ Association in 1977 – obviously with the ulterior motive of increasing sales of pens and pencils.

Ms D’Sa learnt cursive (joined-up) writing at school in Abu Dhabi, yet today US schools have stopped teaching it altogether.

Tania Siddiqui, the co-founder and director of Masterminds Nursery in Dubai, says writing is an “intellectual feat” as well as a manual one, while typing does not require the “same level of neurological or manual complexity”.

A 2014 study by two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that students who handwrote notes rather than typing in lectures listened, digested and summarised, leading to better comprehension and retention, even a week later.

Yet even as we write less, we are still buying fountain pens. Euromonitor found that the volume of pen-buying was down but the value was up, with global sales reaching US$431 million in 2015, up 7 per cent on 2014.

Today Ms D’Sa still hand-writes her thank-you cards, and practices mindful meditation by writing daily with a calligraphy pen. She never uses a ballpoint – yet the common Bic biro is still the best-selling pen on Amazon.

q&a an art that is being lost

Suzanne Locke reveals why we are losing out by not practising handwriting:

Do we really write so little today?

A 2014 study commissioned by the printing and mailing company Docmail found that, on average, none of the 2,000 British respondents had written anything in 41 days and that one in three had not written a single thing by hand for six months.

Why is handwriting better for us than typing?

In a 2012 Indiana University study, researchers conducted brain scans on pre-literate five-year olds and found that those who were taught letters and then practised writing had far higher neural activity than those who just looked at letters. And in a 2014 study by the pen company Bic, 82 per cent of teachers said students are losing traditional skills such as mental arithmetic “because of over-reliance on technology”.

Why is National Handwriting Day on January 23?

It is the birthday of John Hancock, the first person to sign the US Declaration of Independence in 1776. Because he was the first, he signed it big and bold in the centre of the parchment.

What does my handwriting say about me?

Research by the US National Pen Company claims handwriting can give clues about 5,000 personality traits. Large letters indicate a writer is outgoing and outspoken, while small letters show someone to be shy and studious. Writers who scribble without any slant to their words tend to be practical and logical.


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