The silence is broken by a soft click … A shiny golden triangle, split characteristically down the middle, catches the sun rays streaming in through the window. A sheet of paper, slightly rough to the touch, rests on a wooden desk, held down gently by the fingers. The nib hovers over the paper momentarily and begins to trace a signature. The soft sound of gold gliding across the surface can be heard. The stream is flowing, the point is scratching gently, the air is stirring … The scent of ink is rising from the desk.
No such feast for the senses when interfacing with a computer! There is some kind of genuine and indisputable magic in everything that is analogue, paper, traditional, without necessarily being a luxury item. Which of us has never felt that, when you really have to concentrate and be creative, nothing works better than a pencil and a clean sheet of white paper?
Do you still remember the smell of a quality pencil? That faint but unmistakable smell of wood and pencil lead, its sharp end imparting a sense of intellectual prowess to the owner, which wafted over the desk as you took the pencil out from the pencil case and started writing! Or the scent of a rubber eraser? I don’t mean Chinese rubber erasers that smelt a bit like chewing gum – I grew out of those fairly quickly. I mean real rubber erasers, the kind used by draftsmen. The kind that, in office work, used to consign bad ideas to the dustbin.
A friend who is very fond of new technologies and business books surprised me recently by saying: I’ve got all these books on my e-book reader, in my phone as audiobooks, but I don’t feel I’ve read a book until I have got hold of a paper copy and put it on my shelf at home. I wonder if there is something to it.
There may well be something to it, if the scientists are to be believed. Extensive neuropsychological research shows that the smell of glue, paper and printers ink which we pick up while holding and reading a print book affect parts of our brain that the same text read on an e-book reader doesn’t. I can’t say whether they are the better parts of our brain but they are different parts for sure. People who read a lot of digital text files and print text develop a strong ability to understand both. Those who read only print books however have a harder time understanding text on screen. Research carried out among students also confirms that those who make hand-written notes during lectures find it easier to understand the lectures than those who use computers for note-making, even though they take down disproportionately fewer words (notes taken using computers contain 70% more words).
Note-making is a symptom of material culture. Countless books and volumes (medieval manuscripts), an untold number of hand-written diaries and letters, until recently exchanged on paper, are an indisputable material legacy passed down to us by earlier generations. The further we go down the digital age route in all areas of life, from games to writing, the less we leave behind.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Have you never been to a toy museum? What a wonderful tale toys tell about the bygone days! Were you never thrilled to pick up a book printed 200 years ago? Especially if the book contained hand-written notes in place of the original passages which had been expunged by a foreign occupier’s censor? A book like this fell into my hands once and I read it with bated breath, never mind its archaic language and style. On long-haul journeys I always travel with my e-book reader and in my car I listen to audiobooks.
So, all told, I will be honest in saying I am not surprised that we, at ABC Data, have added stationery and school supplies to the range of our signature digital products. Of course, we are confident that it will be good business. But while we are at it and always with an eye on the bottom line, we are planning to salvage from the old analogue world what is truly valuable.
Isn’t it wonderful to be able to pursue a few goals at the same time in full harmony?
A handful of links as usual for those wishing to learn more:
Forbes carries an article about the marketing power of advertisements printed on paper: they work better!
Another interesting piece on the pages of Public Radion International, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation: text on screen is processed by a different part of the brain than text on paper …
More about how our brain processes information in the Focus monthly: