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In A Digital World, Paper Notes Are As Relevant As Ever for Intellectuals, Effective Academics

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U.S. National Public Radio (NPR), Washington, D.C., USA, recently concluded what they detail as a scientific experiment style reporting  suggesting better learning is achieved through the use of paper, especially paper notes. The following is an excerpt from two additional parts of interviews and from this ongoing NPR series active over the last two months. 

An NPR editorial begins:
 
I confess. I'm a notebook nut. I own dozens and dozens of them. Everything from cheap reporter's notebooks to hand-crafted Italian leather beauties. I wondered: Am I an analog dinosaur, or are there others out there like me?

The first stop in my investigation was, frankly, discouraging.  At first glance, a Starbucks on the campus of George Washington University points to the dinosaur conclusion. So plentiful are the laptops and tablets that they outnumber the double-mocha-half-caf-triple-shot-Frappuccinos.

But when I look more closely, I spot plenty of paper here as well. Evan DeFransciso, a 20-year-old student, says he makes a clear demarcation: digital for schoolwork and paper for "my creative writing ... short stories, poems, personal thoughts."

"The stuff that really matters goes onto the paper," he said.

Not just any paper. He uses a small black notebook with an elastic band and a storied past. Picasso and Hemingway used an early version of the Moleskine, and now you can, too.

The Italian company that makes Moleskines — all 500 versions — is red hot, consistently recording double-digit sales growth.

Here the analog company's success has grown in tandem with the digital revolution. In fact, when conducting market research, the company detected something even more perplexing: a direct correlation between sales of its little black notebooks and proximity to an Apple store.

That led Moleskine CEO Arrigo Berni to conclude that his customers are "not people who are clinging to paper with a nostalgic feeling, but rather people that have both digital and analog as part of their lives."

Yes, he says, we live in an increasingly digital world, but we "still have a need for physical experience, for emotional experiences that digital devices and technology" don't always provide.

Besides, he adds, for so-called digital natives, iPhones and other high-tech gadgets are commonplace. Paper is the curiosity.

Consider the case of Angelia Trinidad, recent college graduate and self-proclaimed gadget freak. Not that long ago, she found herself adrift, professionally and emotionally, so she sought out a planner, a paper planner. None felt quite right so she designed her own.

Smelling a business opportunity, she turned to Kickstarter to get funding. In one of her campaigns, she was aiming for $10,000; she raised more than half a million.

"We went viral for a whole week, and it was insane," she says.  Friends urged her to launch a digital version of her planner, but she resisted.

"I put my foot down," Trinidad says. "I said 'no apps.' "

She has nothing against apps — her smartphone is chockablock with them — but she finds paper is more intimate.

"It's this thing that is so intuitive. It's between you and paper and a pen. It's kind of meditative," she said. "When I'm on the phone, it's never meditative. It's always task-y."

Paper, Trinidad says, makes the abstract tangible, in a way that digital devices don't.

"I feel there's a huge need for paper in this increasingly digital world," she added. "I look at my planner and I think of it as my second brain. I look back at something on there and it's like, 'Oh, I wrote that.' "

I know what she means. As a writer, no work feels complete until hitting the print button and it's on paper. Maybe, though, Angelia and I are both dinosaurs, albeit from different generations.
 
Pam Mueller was a teaching assistant for an introductory psychology class at UCLA. One day, she forgot to bring her laptop to class.

"So I took notes, you know, the old-fashioned way, the way I did in college — pen and paper," she explains. "I thought I got so much more out of the lecture that day." She mentioned this to her professor, Daniel Oppenheimer. It turns out that he had a similar experience in a faculty meeting. He was dutifully taking notes on his laptop but realized he had no idea what people were saying.

Oppenheimer and Mueller wondered if there was something about paper and the act of writing that explained this phenomenon, so they conducted an experiment. They asked about 50 students to attend a lecture. Half took notes on laptops and half with pen and paper. Both groups were then given a comprehension test.

It wasn't even close. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops.

Mueller attributes this unexpected finding — published in the journal, Psychological Science — to the fact that the "analog" note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe. It's a phenomenon known as "desirable difficulty."

"Desirable difficulty is some small roadblock that is in your path that actually improves your understanding of a topic," she explains.

This is, admittedly, a hard sell on college campuses, she conceded.

"Students find it hard to believe that more content isn't better," she said, "that they aren't going to just get it all down now and study it later."

Mueller, though, has taken her research findings to heart. Whenever she needs to truly grasp a subject, she ditches the laptop and takes notes with old-fashioned pen and paper.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
  
Transcript of the NPR Interview on Radio Covers Paper and its Connection to Efficient Learning Through the 'Magic' of Using Ink Pens.
 
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to take a look at paper this morning and the old-fashioned notebook. It looked like it was heading the way of the rotary phone, but notebooks are actually back in vogue. Not only are they portable and crash proof, but recent research has found advantages to taking notes on paper. With part two of our series on the future of paper, here's author and former NPR correspondent Eric Weiner.

ERIC WEINER, BYLINE: I confess I'm a notebook nut. I must own dozens and dozens - everything from cheap reporter's notebooks to handcrafted Italian leather beauties. I wonder, am I an analog dinosaur or are there others out there like me? At first glance, this Starbucks on the campus of George Washington University points to the dinosaur conclusion. Laptops and tablets are so plentiful they outnumber the double mocha half-caff triple shot Frappuccinos, but then I look more closely and spot plenty of paper here as well. Twenty-year-old Evan DeFrancisco says he makes a clear demarcation - digital for schoolwork and paper for...

EVAN DEFRANSCISO: My creative writing, things like that - short stories, poems, personal thoughts. The stuff that really matters goes onto the paper.

WEINER: Not just any paper, a small black notebook with an elastic band and a storied past. Picasso and Hemingway used an early version of the Moleskine, and now for 11.99 plus tax, you can, too. The Italian company that makes Moleskine's - all 500 versions - is red hot, consistently recording double-digit sales growth. Oddly enough, the analog company's success has grown in tandem with the digital revolution. In fact, the company noticed something even stranger - a direct correlation between sales of their little black notebooks and proximity to an Apple Store. Moleskine CEO Arrigo Berni says his customers are no Luddites.

ARRIGO BERNI: It's not people that are, like, clinging to paper with a nostalgic feeling but rather people that have both digital and analog as part of their lives.

WEINER: For digital natives, he says, iPhones and other high-tech gadgets are commonplace. Paper is the curiosity.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ANGELIA TRINIDAD: I decided that I just needed to take action and pull myself out of this rut. I took out of a piece of paper and brain-vomited everything that was swirling around in my head, and I realized that...

WEINER: Consider the case of Angelia Trinidad, a recent college graduate and self-proclaimed gadget freak. Not that long ago, she found herself adrift professionally and emotionally, so she sought out a planner, a paper planner. None felt quite right, so she designed her own. Smelling a business opportunity, she launched this Kickstarter campaign. She was aiming for $10,000. She raised more than half a million.

TRINIDAD: We went viral for a whole week, and it was insane.

WEINER: Friends urged her to launch a digital version of her planner, but she resisted.

TRINIDAD: And I put my foot down, and I said no. I said no apps.

WEINER: She has nothing against apps. Her smartphone is chockablock with them, but she finds paper more intimate.

TRINIDAD: It's this thing that is so intuitive, and it's between you and paper and a pen, and its kind of meditative I think whenever I make a mind-map of what I'm thinking or whenever I'm drawing that I feel - like, when I'm on my phone, it's never meditative. It's always tasky.

WEINER: As a writer, I'm looking at a screen and I'm typing the words...

TRINIDAD: Yeah.

WEINER: ... And it doesn't feel finished until you hit the print button.

TRINIDAD: And it's on paper.

WEINER: And it's on paper.

WEINER: Maybe Angelia and I are just a couple of sentimental paper lovers - maybe. But some recent research suggests otherwise. Pam Mueller was a teaching assistant for an introductory psychology class at UCLA. One day, she forgot to bring her laptop to class.

PAM MUELLER: So I took notes, you know, the old-fashioned way, the way I did in college, pen and paper, and I thought I got so much more out of the lecture that day.

WEINER: She mentioned this to her professor Daniel Oppenheimer.

MUELLER: And then he had a sort of similar experience in a faculty meeting where he'd been typing and realized he'd been writing down everything that everyone said but actually had no idea what it was all about. So since we both had these intuitions that we should test them.

WEINER: So they did.

DANIEL OPPENHEIMER: This is also I think confirmed by the fact that the seclusion of woman in creating...

WEINER: Students listened to this lecture. Half typed notes on laptops, and half wrote them by hand. Both groups were then given a comprehension test. It wasn't even close. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops. Mueller attributes this unexpected finding, published in the journal Psychological Science, to the fact that the analog note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe, a phenomenon known as desirable difficulty.

MUELLER: Desirable difficulty is, you know, some small roadblock that's in your path that actually, you know, improves your understanding of a topic.

WEINER: Mueller has taken her research findings to heart. Whenever she needs to truly grasp a subject, she ditches the laptop and takes notes with old-fashioned pen and paper. For NPR News, I'm Eric Weiner.
 
Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
 
From Your TAPPI Over the Wire News Editor: I see it as encouraging "paper note" students synthesize rather than merely transcribe, a phenomenon known as desirable difficulty... and that can be essential to developing sharp critical thinking skills. This should give the tools to paper marketing and PR groups to get digitally connected countries to consider rewarding new, increased sales of P&W paper to be used again and to stop the unchecked pace towards digital investment in schools.
 
More research was quoted by an online commenter on one of the NPR study, citing his alleged experience in the administration of a school commission for a number of years. He pointed out that many school-boards in the country lack the investment computer firms ask for, but feeling no other option because "settling on paper" for the year seems lacking in the 'modern edge and concern for ongoing innovation being looked for in quality schools, so digital is purchased at a relatively high price, even in bulk, due to a mixture of apathy and a knowledge by digital providers of education materials that schools are becoming less and less likely to spend their money on traditional paper learning supplies - even though that arrangement would by no means take all computers out of schools. The new movement is for a laptop in every student's desk... and that could be one step too far.
 
A majority of large school systems remain a high percentage in debt, much of it more that can likely be made up in a calendar year while going into progressively expensive to pay-off county debt at  for  digital systems that often go unused in many units before corporations once again lobby to replace them for being "obsolete".
 
But it is hard to convince, as of yet, that paper still has a place in society that does not become totally obsolete. If anything, we may be entering an era, or at least a "fad" where computers and online/digital prominence is becoming questioned in our life, most often identified by jokes that show a society more interested in holding internet surfing smartphones in company rather than interacting.
 
The forest industry TAPPI represents accounts for thousands of qualified scientists who have come to a logical conclusion that properly managed forest production is carbon neutral, unlike increased server loads on paperless data processing that uses, often, coal power boilers for the increased load.

Paper does not become obsolete, physically for sometimes more than centuries, or in terms of communication era's perhaps indefinitely if its cognitive benefits prove true, along with the obvious strategic gains - who really wants to share secrets on digital device anymore? Multiple stories of legitimate inventors seeking a competitive patent or award using only a non-electrical typewriter hit the news in 2014, more than at any time since the transition to the digital era.. Most importantly there is no real reason to hold back on using paper considering the truth of creating renewable abundance. The new area of managed forests will be a highly efficient renewable resource for paper production from a carbon neutral cycle that absorbs the Green House Gases with its fast growing fervor even after becoming a tall tree by normal standards. Much more so than computers that last a only a relative few years before adding toxic junk to landfills.
 
For those who remember, Compact Discs upon great fanfare and new release were considered to be the "perfect reproduction of sound." Now the public exposed to them for now at least 30 years know that is not true, with DVD audio being released not just for picture but for high definition encoding of sound that was "incomplete". An analog 'audophile community' developed in the 1980s-90s through the 21st century maintains that analog on vinyl or studio high-fidelity and high speed magnetic tape decks is better for synthesizing more audio-induced "depth" from the senses. Perhaps the same is true for building a wall between overly pushing digital to the point of hurting the beneficial "analog reality" of physical, paper notes and calculations?
 
I am all for "High-Fidelity" (paper-based - nothing is more hi-fi than real life) learning leading to what we believe is a spike in organic thought, not compressed as opposed to  "low bit rate" regurgitation of facts that have been pixelated on a computer screen. I was one of the first students to grow up with computers all around me... the first where computer labs became a "thing" at elementary, middle, and high schools. It never seemed to do extra for me, or other students. The students who always did the best seemed to be those who took good notes... on classic three-ring binder writing paper. 

By: Content Oversight Manager, Editor, Online Entry Specialist for TAPPI's OTW, Dylan L. Patrick. Patrick worked beginning with his introductory to TAPPI as a part time inner-company News specialist while in college in 2011. In 2014 Dylan became the primary manager of TAPPI Over-the-Wire. He is an avid reader of non-fiction. He has a particular interest in the industry's excellent position for electric cogeneration potential. He can be contacted at dpatrick@tappi.org.
 

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