It’s mightier than the sword, but can the pen survive the keyboard era?

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Grey nomads use pens
The pen has long been vaunted as being one of the most powerful tools known to man. Is the march of laptops, tablets and mobiles about to change that?

It used to be one of the most indispensable items in the traveller’s kit. Whether they were heading to the airport or around Australia in a caravan, the humble pen was something that no self-respecting continent-trotter could do without.

For those writing a journal or penning a postcard, ink was the medium of choice for recording and communicating thoughts and emotions from the open road. And then, of course, came the computer. Now grey nomads – like the rest of the population – commonly type and tap on laptops, tablets, and mobile phones rather than write the ‘old-fashioned’ way.

Trip details are commonly recorded digitally rather than on paper, letters have become emails, and cheque writing has been replaced by online banking. Other than for doing the odd crossword, has then the humble biro become another ‘has-been’ of Big Lap baggage?

Well, having been the product of classrooms where cursive writing was a core educational requirement, at least baby boomers have the necessary skills to begin with. The computer has been chipping away at handwriting’s importance for some time and, in countries such as Finland, schools now offer typing classes instead of handwriting lessons. Nonetheless, technology-loving grey nomads may still want to re-consider putting those pens into permanent hibernation.

According to various studies, handwriting may boost fine motor skills in your hands and fingers.

William Klemm, a senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, says there is also a spillover benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing.

“To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers,” he said. “You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it.” Other studies have also suggested that handwriting can stimulate visual recognition and memory retention.

So, is the old-fashioned penmanship of grey nomads still  a useful skill? After all, the fact that it takes more time than typing should mean it has greater value. “I love writing my trip journal by hand,” says Cynthia Anderson. “I feel like it’s more a labour of love than simply seeing words flash up on an impersonal screen … it feels like I’m also leaving my emotions on the page.”

But this struggle with communication progress may not be restricted to the older generation. There are those who feel the keyboard whizzkids of today may well find their skills unnecessary when they finally hit the road as the grey nomads of tomorrow. The rapid rise of voice recognition software means they will probably be relaxing in their hammocks talking out loud while their computers dutifully record every word.

In other words, keyboards could eventually be going the way of the pen … and the quill.

• Do you prefer to write your journal the ‘old-fashioned’ way? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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