David Carr's 'Lasting Totem' - Stelter reflectsMy wife doesn’t hoard email the way I do. But she’s glad she held onto the one David sent her when I was on the verge of two big life changes: Marrying her and joining CNN. Looking back, I couldn’t help but notice this email had no typos or abbreviations. “this next unfolding will be a pleasure to watch, although from a greater distance,” he wrote. “and of all the choices brian has made, you are and will be the most important one.” On the evening of the wedding, February 22, 2014, David arrived early and stayed late, taking photos with my family members and beaming with fatherly pride. Earlier in the day, I had sent a love letter and a necklace over to the bridal suite where Jamie had been getting ready. Nice touch, right? Until I recently reread his emails, I’d forgotten who deserved the credit.
In the first study, 65 college students watched one of five TED Talks covering topics that were interesting but not common knowledge. The students, who watched the talks in small groups, were either given laptops (disconnected from Internet) or notebooks, and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes. The students then completed three distractor tasks, including a taxing working memory task. A full 30 minutes later, they had to answer factual-recall questions (e.g., "Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?") and conceptual-application questions (e.g., "How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?") based on the lecture they had watched. The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions. The notes from laptop users contained more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture, compared to the notes that were written by hand. Overall, students who took more notes performed better, but so did those who had less verbatim overlap, suggesting that the benefit of having more content is canceled out by "mindless transcription." "It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently," the researchers write. Surprisingly, the researchers saw similar results even when they explicitly instructed the students to avoid taking verbatim notes, suggesting that the urge to do so when typing is hard to overcome. The researchers also found that longhand note takers still beat laptop note takers on recall one week later when participants were given a chance to review their notes before taking the recall test. Once again, the amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items.