From ideas to to-do lists, we store everything on our phones. I don’t even remember the last time I tried to memorize a phone number. And for taking notes during a meeting, like most people, I use the notes app rather than a traditional paper item. The convenience is two-fold: we don’t have to carry extra items à la a notebook as our phones are always with us, and we don’t have to remember anything as everything is a click away.
As my smartphone usage has increased, my memory has gotten progressively worse and oftentimes I don’t even bother spelling correctly because I know autocorrect has my back. There is research already out there stating that smartphone use worsens our memory.
Now, new research from Japan has shown that a faster way of remembering things is going back to putting pen to paper. Published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the paper found that brain activity in recalling tasks is boosted when we write using our hands when compared to taking notes on a tablet or smartphone. The study also found that writing on paper is 25% faster for taking notes than using digital aides like phones.
There is research already out there stating that smartphone use worsens our memory.
“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo and corresponding author of the research, said in a press release.
In the study, 48 volunteers were asked to memorize schedules from a fictional conversation between characters discussing their daily plans for two months. Volunteers were then given one hour to write down the fictional schedule using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app on a tablet and a stylus, or a calendar app on a smartphone.
Those using smartphones were the slowest, talking about 16 minutes to fill the calendar, while those using the tablets took 14. The volunteers who used a paper datebook and pen filled it in 11 minutes.
“Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage,” Sakai explained. “But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin.”
The researchers also noted that one way of reducing the memory gap between digital and analogue tools could be personalization of digital documents by highlighting, underlining, circling, or other types of marking techniques we use while writing on paper.
Editor’s note: The article and headline erroneously stated that writing on paper improves memory. This has now been amended. We regret the error.