Paperless statements, paperless billing, and paperless tax-returns. While the world is becoming more and more paperless every day, one area where paper and pen is still preferable is note taking. Every year 21 million college in students in America buy well over 100 million notebooks and pens to take class notes. Legal pads and notebooks flood every office allowing meeting constituents to jot down important points and action items. It’s not that paper and pens are ideal, convenient, or organized; it’s that for centuries they have been the only tools that get the job done.
Pen and paper have been ideal tools for note taking for two reasons. First, notes are what computer scientists calls “unstructured data.” Unlike a word document, excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation; there is no common format that notes share. Some may require bullet points, some paragraphs of text, and some quick diagrams or images. Paper and pen is great for this because there is no structure in a blank piece of paper – you can write wherever and draw whatever you want. Second, handwriting is incredibly quick and intuitive. While it is technically possible to type a math equation into word, it’s slow, clunky and unintuitive. With a paper and pen it’s as simple as copying whatever symbol you see on a chalkboard.
Even though paper and pens do a great job at taking unstructured notes, they are awful at organizing them. Papers get lost, out of place, and hard to find. Computers seem to be a logical improvement to this issue because they can work with unstructured data just fine and are fantastic at organization. Historically, however, it’s been hard for computers to significantly improve the note taking experience because they have been awful to write on (think of grocery store check-outs where legibly signing your name on a digital pad is all but impossible). This is beginning to change. New changes in digital writing technology and friendly application program interfaces (APIs) are bringing accurate digital handwriting to the masses. Digital pens now have highly sensitive pressure sensors, mimicking the behavior of their traditional counterparts almost perfectly. Thinner screens and sensors increase precision, ensuring that where you think you are writing is where the digital ink shows up on the screen. Faster processing allows for digital ink to appear on the screen as quickly as a digital pen transverses it. In short, with modern digital pens and displays, computers have bridged the handwriting gap.
Pencil and Paper
|*Effectiveness refers to ease of use, quickness, precision.|
The arrival of accurate and accessible digital handwriting is poised to rock the 11-billion-dollar pen and pencil industry. Computing devices smaller than a traditional notebook are taking center stage with college students. Two of the more popular products in this category are Apple’s iPad Pro and the Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. Both have highly accurate digital handwriting technology built into them2,3. Other hardware manufactures are likely only one short generation behind. They are sure to follow suit and the technology will only proliferate. Traditional writing and pen companies are trying to embrace the digital age but so far their efforts have largely only resulted in adding stylus ends to their otherwise unchanged writing products1 (essentially combining two outdated technologies into one device). These innovations will not save them from the digital handwriting revolution. The industry needs to start making rapid and significant advances in innovating new, digital-age products.
It will be interesting to see how digital notebooks, pens, books, and papers continue to change the academic and professional landscape. So much of the world around us revolves around the traditional paper and pen industry. As with any innovation, new opportunities are sure to arise from the technology and there are likely exciting new innovations to be made and profitable new companies that will be formed. The question that remains is whether the major players in the current paper and pen space will pivot before they run out of ink.
(682 Non-handwritten Words)