Everything’s coming up QWERTY. At least, that’s what the rise of the keyboard feels like. Everywhere you look, typing has replaced the pen. At home, at work, in classrooms—there’s just no need for handwriting anymore. Or is there?

There are two entrenched sides in the debate over cursive. On the one hand, people lament the loss of the beautiful, flowing script of yesterday and its replacement by the cold text of a keyboard (or, if we do bother to pick up a pen, by clunky printing that older generations had mastered by kindergarten).

On the other hand, some say we just don’t need cursive or even printing anymore. We no longer inscribe clay tablets or use Pitman shorthand, so why should we hold on to an outdated, and often illegible, method of communicating? If a better, faster tool (keyboards) has replaced it, it’s time to let cursive go.

Does the debate have a clear answer? Well, if we look at the practical side of it, keyboards seem to come out ahead. 

There’s good reason why texts and emails have become the norm at work, at home, and everyplace in between. It doesn’t matter whether we’re sending a message to our boss or catching up with friends halfway around the world—it’s faster, and typically much neater, to type a text or email than it is to use pen and paper.

It’s true that keyboards can’t duplicate the personal touch of pen and paper. But the argument could be made that audio and video messages are more personal still. Why settle for the impersonal nature of ink on paper when you can hear and see your loved ones in a high-resolution video message? 

As for signatures, biometrics and digital signatures are fast becoming the norm. If a physical signature is required, a barely legible scribble is all most people use anyway, even on legal and financial documents.

Admittedly, there are times when writing by hand is convenient. Jotting a quick digital note with an Apple Pencil or Samsung’s S Pen is sometimes just the thing. The same goes for leaving a short message on a Post-It. But those don’t require anything more than simple block printing, and certainly not beautifully formed cursive.

So what do we still need cursive for?

A lot, as it turns out. Specifically, our brains need it. In the contest between pen vs. keyboard, the keyboard just doesn’t fire our brains up the same way that handwriting does—and that includes writing on a digital screen.

The latest research comes from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in a study published in Frontiers in Psychology. Students wore caps with 256 electrodes that measured their brain waves. The students either typed a set of words or wrote the same words on a screen, using a digital pen. 

The researchers found that “handwriting activates almost the whole brain as compared to typewriting, which hardly activates the brain as such. The brain is not challenged very much when it’s pressing keys on a keyboard as opposed to when it’s forming those letters by hand.”

Using a pen—whether you’re printing or writing—sparks communication between your brain’s sensory, motor, and visual cortices. 

Perhaps more interesting, not any old fine-motor activity will do. Writing by hand fires up connections in your brain that keyboards and other fine-motor skills just can’t do. It brings unique, positive benefits to “the brain’s connectivity patterns related to learning and remembering.”

Ultimately, the answer isn’t either/or—that either typing or cursive is best, with no middle ground. 

Typing and cursive are both communication technologies. When we adopt them, just like with every other technology, we both gain something and lose something. The key is to understand what we’re losing or gaining, and to use our technology based on that. 

The alternative is to blindly leave our old technology behind and not realize the trade-off until it’s too late.

Photo by Eleni Koureas on Unsplash   


  1. Nice article. Recently, I have begun to use a stylus with my iPad. My cursive writing has already become much neater. When I write more legibly, the reward is the correct word is transcribed into text.

    I find it is faster than typing.

    • Hi Angela,

      It’s amazing how those skills come back with even a little bit of practice! I’ve been doing a lot of reading on neuroplasticity, tech effects on the brain, etc., and it’s clear that older technologies like cursive have benefits we’re only starting to understand.



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