In Defense of Typing

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Whoa, whoa, whoa! Was not my last post about handwriting? How handwriting stimulates creativity and word productivity? Very true, but since then I’ve run across the article, ‘The Joy of Typing,’ which strikes back at the idea that typing reduces the quality of your thought.

Typing, the author Clive Thompson argues, does not make us stupider. Handwriting is great for note-taking, he goes on to say, because it prevents us from robotically recording every word we hear, and instead makes us think about how to shorten what we’re hearing into something we can write down. But typing is better for creating original works, because the speed of typing enables us to get all of our ideas down.

This is due, he argues, to something called ‘transcription fluency’ – getting down on paper the ideas you have in your head. Transcription fluency is improved in handwriting by teaching kids to practice making their letters until they don’t have to think heavily about each word they want to express, they can just write it. When it comes to typing, this involves teaching kids to type properly instead of with that two-fingered typing method. The more fluid you get, the more likely you are to get your ideas down before they slip away – and obviously the speed of typing makes it superior to writing in this respect.

Kids, Thompson argues, often DON’T learn proper typing, while most schools still do focus on printing with a pencil and paper. And you know what? I am utterly grateful my dad sat me down one summer and forced me to learn to type – This is will help you in highschool and university, he said, and he was absolutely right. I never typed notes in class, but I did type out dozens and dozens of essays, book reviews and assignments. And if I’d continued to hunt-and-peck at the keyboard like I remember doing in elementary school, I probably still wouldn’t be graduated now.

Did knowing how to type help me with my ‘transcription fluency’? After thinking about it, I think it probably did. I remember working in group projects where I’d try writing up the project with a several other people, and these people would just struggle with their section of the report while I pounded out my ideas in no time at all. I always figured it was their problem of overthinking every little word that they typed – that it would be better for them to just type something, and go back and fix it later. However, maybe it was directly related to their typing ability. Maybe they overthought every single word of their sentence because their typing ability was so slow that the sentence had to be good enough to actually be worth the effort of typing.

Where my experience doesn’t line up with Thompson’s arguments is where he states the ‘transcription fluency’ that comes with typing leads to higher quality writing – that once people could express their ideas at a pace of at least 32.4 words a minute they produced more coherent and readable writing. Like I said, my quality of fiction decreases drastically when I type (though I suppose the possibility is that I haven’t reached a high enough word count to get into a proper writing ‘trance’?) I feel like I miss my brain’s filter when I stare at a computer screen with the ability to pound out words as fast as I think them. I miss my ability to compose and recompose while my hand struggles to put those sentences on paper. But that is possibly just my own idiosyncrasy. After all, I don’t notice this when typing nonfiction.

In the end, I’d argue that knowing BOTH how to write and how to type are important. I never thought about how much I relied on typing until I read Thompson’s article, but I really, really do. Not for creating fiction – I seem to have some sort of technology block in my head when it comes to that – but certainly with creating nonfiction (like this very blog). With nonfiction, you need to be able to constantly rearrange sentences, and create and delete them. But handwriting stimulates different sections of your brain, and sometimes you need that too. This is pretty much the conclusion Thompson comes to too. Ideally, teach yourself to be fluid at both. Your writing might thank you for it.

Any further comments in defense of typing?

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