Looking for a way to improve your memory about something? Ditch the technology.
I know that technology is a time saver, it keeps everything in one place, but it does absolutely nothing to boost your brain power because your brain knows that once you’ve typed it into a file, it’s stored and it doesn’t have to think about it again.
The next time you have to write something down, try picking up a pen and paper.
Something in the brain engages when we write by hand rather than using a keyboard. Perhaps because we have to actually slow our brain down to keep up with our pen. It was our first tool when we began the process of reading and writing, and evidence demonstrates that kids learn to read faster when they are taught to write by hand than on the computer.
In a recent study, college students were divided into two groups. One group was instructed to take notes by hand. The other group was allowed to input notes on their laptop.
The students who typed out their notes were able to take more notes, their conceptual understanding of the material was markedly decreased. Even more striking, even when both groups were allowed to study their notes for an exam several weeks after the lecture, those who handwrote their notes performed much better than those who had a near-perfect transcript of the lecture.
How can that be? Writing by hand takes longer. It’s slower. The notes aren’t nearly as complete. The authors of the study believe that is the key. Faster learning isn’t necessarily better learning. Slowing down improves retention and understanding.
Pen and paper note takers also had to stop taking notes when they needed to understand something. Those using a keyboard were able to keep up with the flow of words without any problem, but their ability to retain what they heard is where they failed. Their fellow students who paused from time to time had to process the information in real time.
The more notes, the poorer the results. Taking notes with a keyboard can be done in a relatively mindless fashion. Pen and paper students were forced to pay careful attention.
The next time you find yourself typing up notes, for whatever reason, consider your purpose. Studies have shown that keeping a journal is an especially productive and insightful practice. But those who use their keyboard to journal demonstrate fewer specific memories of events than those who journal the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. If you need to really remember something, grab a pen and paper.