The benefits of the imperfect art of handwriting

I can still remember the date of the Boston Massacre – March 5, 1770. It’s seared into my head not because I (nor a previous incarnation of I) was present at the scene of the crime, nor because I have a particular interest in American history. I remember that date because, one day, in my 7th grade history class, I wrote it down in my notes.

On the back side of a piece of college-ruled paper using a permanent blue bic pen, I had to write “March 5, 1770” off to the left-margin, preceded with some curved arrow that wound it’s way through an abyss of other notes, because I had run out of room – likely scribbling some other now-long-forgotten factoid about the events leading up to the American Revolution.

I can still visualize the texture of the paper and the color of the ink, as well as the slight dissatisfaction I had with having to “break form” in my note-taking. I was a visual perfectionist back then, and any break from visual perfection became an added wrinkle in my brain. That is why, embarrassingly, I sometimes remember not-terribly-useful facts.

But, I rarely write by hand anymore. In fact, I rarely even type full words anymore. Code-hinting helps me make a public const int by typing P-U-[Enter]-[Space]-C-O-[Enter]-[Space]-I-[Enter].

Writing code in quick key strokes or typing meeting notes is an asset I would not trade for any other known alternative, but it does have its drawbacks.

Nowadays, it’s harder for me to remember what I typed (both in code or in English) because everything comes out so uniform, so mistake-free, and so perfectly aligned. Close a function bracket and a good code editor turns all the code-splatter into neatly indented instruction. Fully justify your notes and whatever you wrote now becomes neatly rendered blocks of thought. Yes, I’m blaming my slow decline in memory on this, rather than old age or the low levels of ADHD that anyone who peruses the internet now has by default.

So, it’s time to rehash an old skill. Write your next blog post, thought, or, even code snippet, by hand first. Make mistakes that have to be amended by cross-offs, arrows, and scribbles. At the very least, it might help you remember an unessential fact or two.