Putting the ink in thinking
Advertising professor Tony Cullingham says putting pen to paper engages our creativity in ways staring at a screen can’t hope to replicate.
Screen culture is damaging creativity.
Increasingly, I see young creatives reach for their laptops whenever they have a problem to solve.
Hey, there are no new ideas on a screen. You’ll only find ideas that already exist. And you don’t want those. Do you? The computer is a big cluttered cupboard, a superfast postman and a very clever professor. It’s not a creative tool. Not when your task is to come up with new ideas. The brain only truly ignites when the hand has a pen and it hovers over a huge pile of lovely white paper. Screens encourage laziness. Creatives simply do not bring the same mental effort to screens as they do when working with paper.
Studies from around the world show that people working with screens are far more casual than those working with paper.
Paper demands more mental energy and commitment.
In 2005, San José State University found that students using screens spent more time trying to take shortcuts than those working with paper.
Their time was spent browsing, scanning and hunting for keywords. The students using paper spent more time thinking. Their brains were more active in seeking out the problem. Screens tire us. They emit light that drains our energy, irritates our eyes and makes us feel tired. Paper does the exact opposite. It reflects natural light. It has texture, weight and beauty. Paper is sensory. The physical aspects of writing and drawing on paper are simultaneously linked with our cognitive processes.
Our mind and body are interlinked.
Studies by Professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway show that our brains don’t work like computers.
We don’t sense things and process the sensory perceptions afterwards. Mangen proved that sense and process are one. And the best way of harnessing this is via the medium of paper.
There is a close connection between what we sense and do with our bodies and what we understand.
Paper is classical and speaks to us in a mental language we comprehend.
It has been the creative launch pad for centuries, inspiring Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs and David Bowie along the way.
Jean Luc-Velay, a French neurophysiologist, has produced studies showing that writing and drawing by hand stimulates different electrical impulses in the brain.
These brain impulses are dormant when we work with screens.
Which explains why the smarter institutes of learning are bringing paper back into the classroom. Paper reveals your very own emotional mind map. It shows you the wide roads of unhindered thoughts, the side streets where you can stop to gaze at the mental architecture, the culs-de-sac of curious concepts and the random roundabouts that make you giddy. Paper gets you to your destination: the big idea. And it allows you to understand your creative journey more fully.
The next time you have a brief, shut down your laptop and grab a layout pad and a marker. You’ll get more ideas. You’ll get more interesting ideas. And it will be more fun. And if someone tells you that you are wasting too much paper, tell them they shouldn’t work for an advertising agency. They should work for the Forestry Commission. (This piece was written on a big sheet of paper before it was typed.)
“The brain only truly ignites when the hand has a pen and it hovers over a huge pile of lovely white paper. Screens encourage laziness”