Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lazy Journalism

Using paper and pen (or pencil) as opposed to computer software encourages creativity and maximises intelligence shouts a headline in the Star technology section today refering to research by Dutch physchologist Christof van Nimwegan. (The actual piece by Rachel Levy is not on the Star website but you can find it here.)

I seized upon it because I personally find, and many people in my creative writing class find, that ideas flow better on paper than on screen. I have anecdotal evidence, so was interested in backing it up with a bit of theory. We always gravitate towards whatever bits of research prove our prejudices, don't we?

But whatdya know, this is another example of a distorted news story getting passed on and passed on like an urban legend. As van Nimwegen points out angrily in a rebuttal on Boing-Boing :
I have indeed done research at Utrecht University, it did involve computer interfaces, and my doctoral thesis was indeed called "The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective. (But) Never, ever in my life have I investigated the use of paper and pens/pencil, nor did I ever mention any of these. NOT ONCE, leave alone that I have done experiments with them!
(A much better account of what van Nimwegan was actually investigating can be found on the BBC website.)

Journalists badly need to acquire the skill of clicking round to compare sources and getting at what the news really is!

Hmmm, it's curious how this post started out as being about one thing (paths to creativity) and ended up by being about something totally other (shoddy journalistic research).


Madcap Machinist said...

I have a rather facile theory re: pen vs computer.

We humans are not programmed genetically to use pen and paper, much less a computer and therefore we have to learn how to use these tools.

Given evidence that the ability to learn (ie for the brain to generate new pathways) is genetically influenced, and therefore passed (and developed) through generations, it stands to reason that we humans would be more receptive to using pen and paper, tools which have been around far longer than computers.

In other words, it is simply easier for our brains to work with pen and paper because they've been trained to do it over generations -- thus maximising intelligence and creativity.

bibliobibuli said...

just as there's evidence to suggest that are brains are becoming wired differntly for reading due to use of the internet.

Erna said...

Unfortunately the Star tech section has gone to the dogs because they're understaffed, overstretched and for the most part, run more Wire stories than actual content. :p

gnute said...

My ideas flow better on paper, too, Sharon. I like to keep the pencilled drafts as well because every scrawl has a memory. or memory of a thought, attached to it. It's those subtle triggers...

GeneGirl said...

I must be genetically inclined to write on paper as well and can't make the evolutionary leap.

narrowband said...

I write better with keyboard! Faster, too. I can type as the ideas flow. Writing is too slow for me lol :p

Chet said...

madcap machinist says:
"In other words, it is simply easier for our brains to work with pen and paper because they've been trained to do it over generations -- thus maximising intelligence and creativity."

I am not immortal. My brain has not been around for generations.

bibliobibuli said...

erna - i'm sure you're right and it really shows.

chet - you are the product of a pretty lengthy chain of evolution y'know and there is evidence that reading and writing has changed the way the brian is wired. (There are already changes to the wiring caused by reading online!)

narrowband - that was the excuse given by some of the folks on my writing course, but they found some extremely interesting things happening to them when they went back to pen and paper.

Yusuf said...

Absolute tosh!

Some people may find writing easier with pen, pencil or quill, on paper, parchment or papyrus but many of us simply do not!

Personally my creativity thrives with the use of a word processor and has done since I discovered them back in the late 1980s. Before that I used an old East European typewriter.

I get severe cramps when writing by hand.

Burhan said...

keeping on the theme of writing technology here, i wonder in what nontrivial sense would literature and the creative process change once voice-recognition software has been sufficiently perfected. we speak quicker than we write, and we read quicker than we listen.

bibliobibuli said...

burhan - good question. some writers have alfready been dictating their stories to tape recorders or secretaries.

i think each writer must find the best balance for themselves and new writers should try different ways into their writing.

one of the questions that wannabe writers love to ask authors 9and which authors hate to answer) is which do you use - pen or computer?

and the answers are surprisingly varied.

me i need to draft with a pen and then work on a piece on the computer.

Madcap Machinist said...

Chet -- ouch. (She's jumping on my grammatical gaffe.)

The above is just a theory, mind.

I think the flexibility of pen and paper suits my creative process: my drafts consist of lists, doodles, notes, diagrams -- I have a very broad definition of a "text" -- after which it doesn't really matter whether I do it longhand or type it out.

On the other hand, working on a computer keeps one focused stringing words together, and that works for me too, though I notice that I write in a different style.

As for writing with voice-recognition... it'll be faster, surely. I think writing is highly recursive -- we constantly go back and forth as we write -- something we don't do naturally when speaking, and when I compare about how we vocalise when we are writing, especially when we're looking for a way out of a tight spot, I reckon it potentially makes for some free-flowing lines.

More interesting would be how a computer can be programmed to aid writing once it knows (but not necessarily understand) what we are saying to it. Just throws up associations as you talk to it. The perfect reader on your desktop.

KittyCat said...

Great post! I wanted to start writing a book and used blogging to freewrite.

3 years and 3 blogs later - still no book :)

I've decided to do it offline and boy, did those juices start to flow!!!

I'm for the pen can only type with the keyboard. But you can brainstorm, cluster ideas, draw arrows, strike off and so many more with a pen and paper.

Gonna write you soon as I need help! Have a good weekend, Sharon.

Yusuf said...

While agreeing with Sharon - each to their own, may I just interject


actually you can do all you say on a computer too - with a tablet!

But yes we all have ways we prefer.

Cow said...

Great post!

Actually, I find that my words flow better on a word processor. Like madcap says, the stringing of words comes much more easily. And I wont be that concerned with making mistakes and become more ambitious with my writing; because I know that with a couple of clicks I can easily change things. (while on paper this would be a messy affair)

Though, for a first draft, or for simply jotting down notes/ideas, definitely nothing beats the flexibility of having a paper and pen to go nuts with. And besides, I like to doodle as much as I write hehe.

Anonymous said...

Journalists are underpaid and overworked, anyone who draws a salary for writing stuff faces a lifetime of poverty.

The tech industry is being de-emphasized now because Mahathir is no longer the PM. Badawi is very "agriculture" so I would have expected the agriculture industry to grow a bit. Now that he might be leaving, we'll be looking at Najib, who is kind of a dark horse for now, but I'm thinking maybe education.

A return to "nobility" perhaps, which bodes well for literature and the arts.