I have long maintained the importance of writing—by hand. I fully realize that today, typing is necessary—it is nearly impossible to communicate digitally in handwriting.
But I remember learning in a psychology course in college that repetitive fine motions, just as linguistic sounds, influence and create new neural pathways in children. It only stands to reason that these neural pathways persist into adulthood.
Take, for example, the Khoisan languages spoken in southern Africa. This language family relies on consonant and vowel sounds with which we’re familiar, as well as on a series of click sounds. It’s one of the least-studied language families in the world, probably for this reason: if a child is not exposed to the unique series of clicking sounds before reaching adulthood (or even the early teen years), he or she will be unable to develop the neural pathways to distinguish those sounds from one another. If this isn’t an argument in favor of varied sensory stimulation for young children, I don’t know what is.
Yet our heavy reliance on typing (on tablets, laptops, desktops, and cell phones) is putting children at risk of failing to fully develop the neural pathways that handwriting helps to create. Who can deny that the writing of an “s” is lingering and luxurious, as is the sound, while the quick crossing motion of a “t” is curt and chopped? However, if we type these letters or any of the 24 others, they all feel the same. And we haven’t even considered the felt effect of combining letters and words.
I do A LOT of typing—probably more than many people do. However, when I need to write anything that requires an iota of creativity, my composition begins with pen and paper. I also force (is that too harsh?) my students to physically pre-write before beginning drafts of papers. It helps to calm them, allows them to diagram their ideas, and gives them an organic connection to what they’re writing.
Today, I read with great interest this article in the New York Times. I think that you’ll appreciate it. It will make you stop and think about all we might be losing when we turn to typing.