Why writing by hand might save us

Contemporary philosopher Byung-Chul Han maintains that the very structure of our attention has changed. 

A non-stop stream of inputs, sources of information and different tasks: our attention is required to respond rapidly to constant changes in focus. Is digital to blame? Our 24/7 connections? One thing is certain: our use of new technology makes any activity that requires real concentration seriously strenuous. Han likes to call that kind of concentration “contemplative immersion” and claims that it lies at the basis of all cultural and productive activity.

There is no shortage of digital detox guides: no phones at the table, don’t check your notifications as soon as you wake up, take your time to reply to an email, limit your access to social media using special apps and so on. These are all daily remedies that can, in the long term, help us maintain the right balance and protect ourselves from the constant communication bombardment that we are exposed to. These also mean we don’t have to resort to extreme measures such as switching back to our faithful Nokia and renouncing a series of undeniable advantages.

When we find ourselves unable to work out our priorities or to maintain an entire conversation, it’s not entirely our own fault, but it is up to us how we use the tools that society gives us. A fundamental part of this quest to reconquer our own time is handwriting, because it forces us to pause. Writing means observing, organising our ideas and expressing them clearly to convey a message.

Writing should definitely be included in that handy detox guide, as a way to train our attention to stay where it is, to focus on one argument at a time. More specifically, writing by hand forces our brain to focus on the gesture and helps it to learn. Studies show that taking notes with pen and paper trains our memory and stimulates intelligence. Moreover, in addition to the ‘mental engagement’, writing by hand requires an actual physical act of rebalance. The support of a table, a chair and, if possible, a quiet space. Picking up the pen and accompanying the flow of your thoughts with the act of writing is therefore a way to carve out a little time (and space) for yourself. And use it to establish a small resistance and protect our ability for deep concentration, which the society of our own creation puts under considerable strain every day.