Monday, May 22, 2017

Distrusting Technology

First, a few observations:
  • Dr. Gary Levine, who used to teach in our Department, had a saying: "Remember that technology will always fail you."
  • One of my English 101 students had a 5-page paper ready to submit last semester, then Microsoft Word ate it. Nothing was left except the first line.
  • I was teaching a Distance Education course for prisoners last Fall, and we had to give all the students a one-month course extension because the tablets they were writing on kept crashing.
  • Last Thursday, my desktop computer crashed, taking all of the files I had accumulated over three years. No, I didn't have a backup. (Big mistake)
  • And finally, several well-regarded academic studies have learned that college students learn more when taking notes with pen and paper than they do when taking notes on a computer.
So, even though college freshmen are all very certain that everything must be done electronically, here is my list of reasons to do all your rough drafting with paper and pen. (Full disclosure here: I'm in the early stages of writing a book, all with pen and paper. I am so glad my stuff wasn't on that computer which crashed.)

  1. A pad of paper is not too likely to crash and forget your essay.
  2. The battery in a pencil doesn't go dead.
  3. If you drop a pad of paper or a pencil, you probably have not destroyed it. Few pens or pads of paper cost $800.
  4. People are unlikely to steal a stack of written notes. Dishonest, lazy people would have to put a lot of work into plagiarizing from your handwritten notes, so they won't do it.
Your Work Strategy
  1. The paper/pen rough draft doesn't look finished, so you are not seduced into thinking that one trip through is enough. It doesn't look fine and wonderful. You assume you will need to revise it.
  2. If you handwrite, you are forced to take a second look at the project as you type up the final.
  3. Tablets and computer screens never show you the whole page. You can't take a step back and gaze at the product while you think.
  4. If your rough draft is on sheets of paper, you can spread them out on the floor and rearrange them into a sequence that makes sense. You are not committed to the first organization that crossed your mind.
  5. It takes zero time to figure out how to work a pencil and paper. Many people spend significant time struggling to make the computer work. (How do I make a numbered list? How do I get the accent above the last letter of José?)
Your Mind
  1. Handwriting slows you down and forces you to think.
  2. Handwriting feels more like writing. (I love the reaction I get when I'm sitting in a fast-food place, writing with a fountain pen and a sheet of paper, and some stranger asks what I'm doing. "Writing a book." They always act as if I'm performing brain surgery.)
  3. Handwriting disappears—you tend to forget that you're doing it and concentrate on the actual writing task. After a while you don't think too much about how you're holding the pencil or what kind of paper you're using.
  4. Computers always have other material waiting to distract you—email, Facebook, porn, things to buy on eBay—writing with a pen and paper helps you stay on task.