In A Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are As Relevant As Ever Is paper just a curiosity of the nostalgic? It turns out that digital natives think paper works in tandem with our devices. Research agrees that old-school note taking offers benefits a screen can't.
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In A Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are As Relevant As Ever

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In A Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are As Relevant As Ever

In A Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are As Relevant As Ever

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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We're going to take a look at paper this morning and the old-fashioned notebook. It looked like it was heading the way of the rotary phone, but notebooks are actually back in vogue. Not only are they portable and crash proof, but recent research has found advantages to taking notes on paper. With part two of our series on the future of paper, here's author and former NPR correspondent Eric Weiner.

ERIC WEINER, BYLINE: I confess I'm a notebook nut. I must own dozens and dozens - everything from cheap reporter's notebooks to handcrafted Italian leather beauties. I wonder, am I an analog dinosaur or are there others out there like me? At first glance, this Starbucks on the campus of George Washington University points to the dinosaur conclusion. Laptops and tablets are so plentiful they outnumber the double mocha half-caff triple shot Frappuccinos, but then I look more closely and spot plenty of paper here as well. Twenty-year-old Evan DeFrancisco says he makes a clear demarcation - digital for schoolwork and paper for...

EVAN DEFRANSCISO: My creative writing, things like that - short stories, poems, personal thoughts. The stuff that really matters goes onto the paper.

WEINER: Not just any paper, a small black notebook with an elastic band and a storied past. Picasso and Hemingway used an early version of the Moleskine, and now for 11.99 plus tax, you can, too. The Italian company that makes Moleskine's - all 500 versions - is red hot, consistently recording double-digit sales growth. Oddly enough, the analog company's success has grown in tandem with the digital revolution. In fact, the company noticed something even stranger - a direct correlation between sales of their little black notebooks and proximity to an Apple Store. Moleskine CEO Arrigo Berni says his customers are no Luddites.

ARRIGO BERNI: It's not people that are, like, clinging to paper with a nostalgic feeling but rather people that have both digital and analog as part of their lives.

WEINER: For digital natives, he says, iPhones and other high-tech gadgets are commonplace. Paper is the curiosity.


ANGELIA TRINIDAD: I decided that I just needed to take action and pull myself out of this rut. I took out of a piece of paper and brain-vomited everything that was swirling around in my head, and I realized that...

WEINER: Consider the case of Angelia Trinidad, a recent college graduate and self-proclaimed gadget freak. Not that long ago, she found herself adrift professionally and emotionally, so she sought out a planner, a paper planner. None felt quite right, so she designed her own. Smelling a business opportunity, she launched this Kickstarter campaign. She was aiming for $10,000. She raised more than half a million.

TRINIDAD: We went viral for a whole week, and it was insane.

WEINER: Friends urged her to launch a digital version of her planner, but she resisted.

TRINIDAD: And I put my foot down, and I said no. I said no apps.

WEINER: She has nothing against apps. Her smartphone is chockablock with them, but she finds paper more intimate.

TRINIDAD: It's this thing that is so intuitive, and it's between you and paper and a pen, and its kind of meditative I think whenever I make a mind-map of what I'm thinking or whenever I'm drawing that I feel - like, when I'm on my phone, it's never meditative. It's always tasky.

WEINER: As a writer, I'm looking at a screen and I'm typing the words...


WEINER: ... And it doesn't feel finished until you hit the print button.

TRINIDAD: And it's on paper.

WEINER: And it's on paper.

WEINER: Maybe Angelia and I are just a couple of sentimental paper lovers - maybe. But some recent research suggests otherwise. Pam Mueller was a teaching assistant for an introductory psychology class at UCLA. One day, she forgot to bring her laptop to class.

PAM MUELLER: So I took notes, you know, the old-fashioned way, the way I did in college, pen and paper, and I thought I got so much more out of the lecture that day.

WEINER: She mentioned this to her professor Daniel Oppenheimer.

MUELLER: And then he had a sort of similar experience in a faculty meeting where he'd been typing and realized he'd been writing down everything that everyone said but actually had no idea what it was all about. So since we both had these intuitions that we should test them.

WEINER: So they did.

DANIEL OPPENHEIMER: This is also I think confirmed by the fact that the seclusion of woman in creating...

WEINER: Students listened to this lecture. Half typed notes on laptops, and half wrote them by hand. Both groups were then given a comprehension test. It wasn't even close. The students who used paper scored significantly higher than those who used laptops. Mueller attributes this unexpected finding, published in the journal Psychological Science, to the fact that the analog note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe, a phenomenon known as desirable difficulty.

MUELLER: Desirable difficulty is, you know, some small roadblock that's in your path that actually, you know, improves your understanding of a topic.

WEINER: Mueller has taken her research findings to heart. Whenever she needs to truly grasp a subject, she ditches the laptop and takes notes with old-fashioned pen and paper. For NPR News, I'm Eric Weiner.

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