Strictly Business: We need to use the write stuff




I am writing the first draft of this column in letter form — and by hand — to improve my thought processes and also to prove the art is not lost (or rather, to prove to myself I can still do it).

It’s an exercise we should practice more frequently, says a recent article in Martha Stewart magazine, which ponders the question of whether handwriting is becoming extinct.

Perhaps it hasn’t quite gone the way of the typewriter yet, but let’s face it, the practice of writing on paper is disappearing in the business world. Handwritten notes, lists and calendar dates — even Post-It notes — are rapidly being replaced by their faster digital counterparts of keyboarding and texting.

These days we use our smartphones for calendar appointments and lists. We also send emails, e-vites and e-cards to colleagues and clients and touch base with friends via Facebook and Twitter.

That’s just the way the world has evolved, a reality accepted by most and embraced by many for lots of reasons, primarily convenience.

But the article says we’re not doing our brains any favors when we avoid handwriting, printing, scribbling, scrawling and doodling.

As it turns out, handwriting not only forces us to organize our thoughts before writing them down, writing — the act of forming the letters — also activates our brains in a way that typing and texting do not.

“When we write, we’re not only memorizing the letters on the paper but also the process and the experience of shaping them,” the article by Joanne Chen stated.

That really got me to thinking about handwriting and how its demise would be such a great loss to society and individuals alike. The article cited 2005 and 2008 studies by researchers at France’s Aix-Marselle University that showed handwriting improved retention in a variety of groups from preschoolers to the elderly. Groups in the study who were taught the letters of a foreign alphabet through writing retained the information at a higher rate than the subjects who were taught the same symbols on the computer screen.

Moreover, an MRI brain scan showed subjects in the handwriting group had activated their brain’s visual and motor systems, as well as their brain’s emotional centers. Chen not only called writing by hand a creative activity, but a visual-spacial process, which could explain why we remember written appointments better than those typed into a smartphone.

During a recent business luncheon, the speaker asked his audience how many people were still keeping appointments in paper day planners. Of about 50 people, only two businessmen raised their leather-bound appointment books. Perhaps those two businessmen are just hopelessly stuck in the past or perhaps, they, too, crave the activity of writing.

Maybe we’ve started to find a middle ground. Wacom Technology Services, a Japanese company with operations in Vancouver, makes digital pens for the wildly popular Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones. Now people can hand-write emails that magically convert to typed letters. The perfect solution: we can scribble, getting that boost to our brain, and technology makes it readable.

Cami Joner is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4532,, or