Last week, Wired ran a story on the research team working on next generation of digital pens and software experiences at Microsoft. It's a great read, because it raises some thoughtful questions about the way that we use computers, and the impact on learning and retention of information in our brains.
We've had a stubborn focus on pen interfaces for computers for decades - my first pen-equipped tablet was a PC running Windows that our family took on a one year backpacking trip around the world with our 3 & 7 year-old daughters. And we chose a pen-equipped tablet because it was exactly the right thing to help our kids continue their learning whilst travelling, in as many ways as possible.
The Wired article says:
Study after study shows we remember things better when we write them—our brain stores the letter-writing motion, which is much more memorable than just the mashing of a key that feels like every other key. We think in fragments, too, in shapes and colors and ideas that just don’t come through on a keyboard. “Think about how many things that are built start as a drawing,” Bathiche says. “Most things, right? Everything you’re wearing probably started as a drawing.”
You can’t type out the folds of a dress, or the gentle curves of a skyscraper. Drawing with your stubby finger on a touchscreen isn’t much better. Humans are tool-based creatures: Our fingers can do amazingly intricate things with a pen, a brush, or a scalpel, that we can’t replicate with a mouse or the pads of our fingers. Our computers are giving back that kind of detailed control. In turn, the pen is opening up new ways of digital expression, new tools for communication, new ways to interact with our tech.
As well as talking about recording and recalling information, and the visual aspects of idea creation, the article also covers the research that's going into ideas like being able to search the web by drawing what you're looking for, and also the need to create a digital pen experience that is as simple and authentic as holding an actual every day pen - although you might well be writing on an 84" digital display, as well as on your personal tablet screen.