Guest Post by Matt Campbell: Computer vs. Paper

Digital Paper

The year is 1993, and I’m on my way home from school. A hundred ideas are flowing through my brain, setting my synapses on fire. I have to get them out. I have to get them written down. As soon as I get home, I go down to the basement and turn on our family computer, a Macintosh LC II (if I remember correctly). It clunks and grunts as it starts up, its hard drive operating at a much higher decibel than anything I know of today. The screen flickers on, I open up a document in some long forgotten word processor, and I begin writing, my fingers ticking away at the keys. My thoughts transfer to the white-gray screen. This is my writing life.

I’ve used a computer to write for as long as I’ve been writing, but not exclusively. I have entire notebooks of handwritten writing that can confirm that. But why? When computers were present, a tool that can be superior to pencil and paper, why would a tech-savvy kid like me choose to cramp my hand?

In order to keep writing when I was away from home, or to break up the monotony of my family’s basement, I needed a way to be mobile. Back in the 90’s, laptops were clunky and expensive. Notebooks allowed a release for my writing. It wasn’t faster than writing on a computer, in fact, writing on paper oftentimes created more work because I’d have to transcribe everything back into the word processor. That never once stopped me though. Better that I get my thoughts down on paper than let my brain explode.

I continued to use a combination of notebooks and computers for my writing well into my college years. Eventually, with the purchase of my first laptop, I gave up the notebooks. It grew too tiresome to transcribe my oftentimes-illegible handwriting, especially since I could take my laptop anywhere I went. But I didn’t throw away the notebooks. Even today, I still write on paper, mainly for brainstorming and ideas, and occasionally to jumpstart my brain after it’s been at rest for too long.

However, the greatest reason I still write on paper, I discovered while writing this post. It’s an obvious reason, but it outshines every single benefit writing on the computer has to offer:

Writing on paper is slow.

As your idea leaves your brain, shoots down your arm, and flows from your fingers onto the paper, you get to savor your thought during the transfer. This is probably why when I really need to remember something, I write it down on paper rather than on the computer. I get a millisecond longer to think about what I’m writing.

Tapping away at the keyboard gets the ideas out just fine. You can manipulate your words and check your spelling and grammar as you go. Computers are great for editing, and they make life so much easier when you’re on the go, but putting ideas on paper holds a special kind of magic. When your ideas are in the computer, they’re flickers of light turning on and off switches in the heart of a machine. When your ideas are on paper, they’re real.

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