What is the impact of digitization on the quality of writing?

This has been a pet issue of mine for some time now and will continue to be for some time to come given my current career path. I believe that digitization, particularly the advances in word processing programs, has a detrimental effect on writing. Microsoft Word is amazing. Its dictionary of Greek names and terms is a little light, but thankfully there is a feature that allows me to add those words myself. Moreover, it knows all the grammatical, syntactical, and spelling rules that I cannot ever keep straight. But it is a crutch, and a crutch that, in the long run, negatively impacts writing.

Every rule and every word that the computer knows, but the author does not (and subsequently decides not to learn) provides a crutch that authors rely upon more and more. I am no different. I have little training in grammar and syntax, and it shows. I have for years relied upon world processing, but there came a time when I realized that the blank screen and lettered keyboard stifled the creative process of writing (yes, it is happening to me right now). Since then I have hand written most of my papers and essays, as well as taking notes by hand. Some papers, particularly the last minute review/response paper and some blog posts like this one, emerge directly from my head to the screen, but these are the exception not the rule. Further, any paper that I care about (and many that I do not) are printed for editing. Other than using the tools available on word processing programs, I rarely edit on the screen.

I realize that other authors have their own modus operandi, however one common denominator among good authors is that they have a preexisting grasp of grammatical rules–and a good editor. Perhaps more people write first on the computer these days. I do not know. I would be curious to know how much preparation, whether on paper or on the computer, goes into the writing process, particularly in regard to short bursts of inspiration (the odd paragraph and what have you).

What I intend here is a first foray into collected thoughts on the link between good writing and handwriting in at least some form. I intend to stick a flag in this post and revisit it, as it were. The impetus for writing it now, though, is somewhat different. Recently there was a scholarly article that investigated literacy and handwriting. Their most immediate finding was that writing by hand focused the attention of the author, while digital writing removed the focus from the haptic input (i.e. the physical act of hitting the keys). Too, they stressed faster speed of digital writing. I will not regurgitate their findings word for word, but the study resonated with me. By linking motor and tactile processes and writing, they demonstrated that there is concrete evidence for changes in the neural processes of writing with the ubiquity of digital production. Moreover, they challenge the education system to find ways to accommodate the findings that the hand and, by extension hand writing, are at the nexus of human learning and development.

“the hand is not merely a metaphor or an icon for humanness, but often the real-life focal point – the lever or the launching pad – of a successful and genuinely fulfilling life”