Monday, June 16, 2014

How to write my blogs

When I started to write my PhD thesis in 1988, personal computers were not yet universally used. Anyway I didn’t have one. So I wrote first a chapter of my dissertation by hand, then I typed it and I sent a physical copy to my tutor. I think it was a good system. Maybe it was not really efficient in view of the present method, but I had a good survey of what I was writing, and my manuscript was full of lines and arrows connecting parts of the manuscript that belonged together. I cannot draw such lines with a computer. On the other hand, it was difficult to move parts of the text I had written at the wrong place or adding text somewhere in the middle of the manuscript, so I used a kind of reference system. I didn’t see it as a loss of time that I had to retype the handwritten text, for it gave me an extra check. However, when I had finished my thesis the publisher wanted to have it on a floppy (do you still know what it is?), so I bought a computer and typed the whole work again.
Even with a PC available I still continued writing my manuscripts first by hand before typing it out digitally, for I didn’t like working behind a desk and writing with a computer. I preferred doing that sitting in an armchair. Later I bought also a laptop which I literally used as a laptop: in my armchair I wrote down my ideas. Since then handwritten manuscripts belonged to the past for me. So when I started my blogs in 2007, I begun writing down some notes about my approach by hand, but when I started actually writing my first blog, I used my laptop. These notes are some of my last handwritten philosophical texts. Everything is done in bits and bytes since then, even the notes.
Is it a positive change? My present way of writing is good and efficient. Nevertheless, since I have read a present newspaper article I wonder whether the old-fashioned manual work isn’t to be preferred. For what happens to be the case? Handwriting appears to be much better for your recollection than typewriting, so the article states, which makes that it is certainly not yet an outmoded manner for producing texts! Children who learn writing first by hand do not only read faster but they are also better in remembering information and developing new ideas than children who learn their first letters on the keyboard. Apparently the manual writing activity stimulates not only the “writing circuit” in the brain but also adjacent circuits. The reason might be that writing by hand is quite a messy activity in comparison with writing with a keyboard and this makes that a wider part of the brain is involved. This pays off later, when you have to call up from memory what you have done.
Research has shown that writing by hand is useful not only for children. The same effect occurs also when university students make notes by hand during their lectures instead of with the help of a keyboard: The hand writers understand their lectures better and remember them also better when they have to reproduce the matter later. And why would what is valid for young students not also be valid for this old guy? So, the upshot is that from now on I should write the manuscripts of my blogs by hand as in the days that I wrote my thesis. But then the troubadour way might even be better: everything by heart.
Source: De Volkskrant, June 4, 2014, p. 19.

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