Friday, 2 January 2015

written by hand....

Years ago — okay, decades ago — when Photoshop was in its infancy, I was required to take a course in digital imagery for my visual arts degree.

I hated it.

Not because I was (or am) a luddite. I love my computer. I write two blogs, process and edit photos, and spend way too much time on social media.

But, as useful as they are, digital art processes have always felt sterile and limited to me. There’s a disconnect between the body and the process; between the human hand and the marks or the forms or the images that you are able to make. It tends to lack — for me — the element of surprise, the happy accidents, the sensory/sensual expression, the spontaneity, the responsiveness, and so much more of what’s human. I remember wanting to reach through my computer screen and just touch the work.

Fast forward about a decade, and I remember a conversation with the very smart and insightful women of my book club about making notes by hand versus taking notes on a computer. About the limitations of e-readers when one has a thought in the middle of a page and needs desperately to jot it down in the margins. About a hypothetical connection between memory and the act of physically writing with a pencil or pen.

Fast forward a few more years, and I have been teaching under my own unscientific theory that the human brain is hard-wired to the human hand. That there is a connection between the actions of holding a pencil and manipulating it on paper that is different from the way the brain processes the tapping of a keyboard.

So imagine my joy and relief when I came across an article in the New York Times that provides me with the science I’ve been doing without.

Author Maria Konnikova writes:

In a 2012 study by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, it was determined that three areas of the brain are activated when a person physically writes something down; significantly more than are used when he or she types.

Essentially, writing by hand is a higher-level thinking skill. It involves planning, spatial reasoning, analysis of the results, synthesis with previous understandings, judgement, evaluation, problem solving, and just simply more work than keyboarding. There is a push, a pull, a friction with the paper. There are mistakes and there are imperfections and there are do-overs. There is persistence, resilience and trying, trying again.

There is learning in the process of writing. There is learning in the connections made between the body and the brain. There is learning in the challenge. There is learning in the imperfection.

We need to make learning harder sometimes, not easier. We need to let kids use their hands and use their brains and sometimes, make a mess.

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