September 4, 2013

Stationary Stationery, or the Demise of Paper

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Written by: Recultured Team
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One realization struck me while I was at a Chapters bookstore downtown: their notebook section had never looked so vibrant. Journals, planners, and calendars were all adorned in intricate designs, floral patterns and all sorts of colour combinations that only an LSD trip could fathom. From funky modern designs and Moleskine’s eye-churning neon-coloured journals to classic gold gilding and leather binding, newer notebooks are quasi-desperately begging for the attention of consumers.

I let myself wonder, why do journals need to be oh-so-fabulous, oftentimes verging into fashion accessories? Then it hit me: the journal was on its way out. Planners and agenda are already obsolete. The gaiety of modern stationery products is the final attempt to make paper relevant in a world of electronic media. Trends have obviously changed since the advent of the tablet and e-Reader, the smartphone, the ultraportable laptop, and the bastard child of the smartphone and the tablet, the phablet. People no longer needed to drag their pens across paper when everything is accessible with their opposable thumbs tapping away on glass.

Typebars in old typewriters used to get jammed when two or more keys are pressed simultaneously.

Typebars in old typewriters used to get jammed when two or more keys are pressed simultaneously. (photo from Wikipedia)

The decline in usage of paper stationery could be related to the demise of typewriters in the 1970’s, when gargantuan IBM computer machines started replacing traditional typewriters in the office. Though the typewriter triumphed in the office and the writer’s desk, the arrival of the computer changed the landscape of word processing forever.

The typewriter tried to keep up with the computer industry by switching to electronic typewriters that used daisy wheels instead of the mechanic typewriter’s clunky typebars that jammed when two or more keys are pressed simultaneously. Despite the attempts to innovate the typewriter, the late 80’s saw the ubiquity of the personal computer, and the exit of the clunky old typewriter. The typewriter was sadly not able to recover from its unfortunate demise. Nowadays, typewriters can only be seen sporadically in police departments or offices that require a different typeset, such as Cyrillic (used in Russia).

Changing trends also affect how paper is being phased-out of the office: in the United States, ‘paperless offices’ or offices that have completely eliminated or greatly reduced the use of paper have increased since 2000. The inception of the iPad and the tablet industry in 2010 has since snipped away 1/3 of the paper industry. In fact, iBooks still ranks as one of the top grossing apps in the Apple App Store. With new media content so accessible in our electronic gadgets, newsprint subscriptions have been also decimated in recent years.

Making good use of paper: practicing handwriting

Making good use of paper: practicing handwriting (photo by Karlo Avenido)

The decline in usage of paper stationery since 2008 also means that the pen-and-paper combo is starting to become irrelevant. People no longer need to lug notebooks and pens along with them when all they need to have is in their smartphone. In fact, even handwriting, a crucial element of stationery that was once considered a skillful art, had taken its toll from the advent of modern media. Some students can no longer sign their names, and only a fraction can recognize handwritten script. The finesse of handwriting that was once flowing and elegant is now reduced to block letters that induce wrist strain after writing a paragraph or two. Speaking of handwriting, I have written a post about fountain pens, another obscurity in the realm of stationery. It would be well worth reading if you haven’t yet.

Yet despite the imminent demise of stationery and the general use of paper, psychologists argue that it would be better if we wrote things down. Writing with our hands and taking the time to write notes is actually related to better focus, better retention in our memory, and is overall related to better learning than when we type away.

A study from the University of Stavanger in 2011 observed how the sensorimotor component in our brains are linked to writing and learning. When we write down notes, we actually integrate the information with our visuo-spatial (by reading our notes) and sensorimotor (by writing down) components. Compared to typing where we recognize characters on a screen, our own handwriting leaves a motor memory in our sensorimotor component which then gets integrated to our visuo-spatial component when we read. In short, we create spatial relations in our brain as we integrate sensorimotor and visual information. This then leads to creating meaning in our brain. This integration that creates meaning when we read what we wrote down leads to better memory consolidation and recall.

We better take note of that.

Would you prefer to write down or type down notes? In real life, do you actually retain more information when you write down notes? What do you think about the increasing popularity of electronic gadgets, and the impending demise of the use of paper? Leave a comment down below!


Featured Image belongs to Andrew Tran

About the Author

Recultured Team
Recultured Team
This is where you'll find the blog posts that the team has contributed to collectively! What team? Wildcats! -Nope, wrong team. Recultured!

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