Rick Green 200

Handwriting meets the Internet—no special tools necessary

July 25, 2018

I recently reported that David Pierce at The Wall Street Journal wants to bring back voice communications in the form of the walkie-talkie. He wants to bring back handwriting as well. “Handwriting has lost its importance in society. Some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore,” he writes. “Yet studies have repeatedly shown that writing by hand can help you process and remember information far better than typing.”

He acknowledges some drawbacks of paper and pencil. There’s no search function. There is no automatic synchronizing with the cloud. However, there are workarounds. “I’ve discovered a surprisingly rich middle ground of handwriting-optimized devices that channel the benefits of the digital revolution,” he writes. “I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing things down the old-fashioned way and found thoroughly modern things to do with them once I’m finished.”

He offers several suggestions. Try an Apple Pencil or Microsoft Surface Pen, for example. “The pen isn’t going to replace your keyboard or touch screen,” he writes, “but when you’re in a meeting and don’t want to hide behind a big screen, or when you’re marking up a contract, you might want to reach for your pen.”

If you don’t like the feel of writing on a glass screen, you can try Sony’s Digital Paper. The company reports that doctors and lawyers use it to review and annotate long contracts. Pierce also finds intriguing Moleskine’s Smart Writing Set, which includes a special pen that transmits what you write to a companion app on your phone or tablet.

Nevertheless, he finds, “After testing nearly a dozen products and platforms, I found the best way to marry handwriting and the Internet is also the simplest, with just two steps: Write in a notebook, then take a picture on your phone.” Your cloud service provider might offer OCR to digitize your scribbles into searchable text. For the notebook, Pierce suggests you try a reusable one from Rocketbook. It helps you specify which folder each page you photograph should be stored in.

I first came across Microsoft’s handwriting recognition technology at an airport demonstration many years ago. I was impressed, and every laptop I’ve bought since can fold into a tablet-like configuration for easy writing with a stylus. However, I find I almost never use this capability. If I’m writing, it’s with a pen and paper. Pierce’s suggestion of simply photographing the pages makes perfect sense to me.

About the Author

Rick Nelson | Contributing Editor

Rick is currently Contributing Technical Editor. He was Executive Editor for EE in 2011-2018. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.

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