Why the notebook lives on

Published 19 September 2019 by Sarah Hudson Photo by iStock
Why do notebooks and journals still hold a place in our hearts – and briefcases – despite a world of digital alternatives? Nostalgia, fashion and even neuroscience offer us reasons to put our thoughts on paper.

Our digital world offers plenty of options when it comes to recording information, yet we still seem to love putting pen to paper. It’s a relationship that has endured through ages, from Homer to Hemingway. Whether it’s shopping lists, names and numbers, or our deepest secrets, we often still choose pen and paper to capture our thoughts.

Yet, while there’s something indescribably romantic about giving expression to your innermost thoughts by logging them in your very own journal or notebook, it’s not just about nostalgia. We’re just as likely to hurriedly reach for our spiral-back notebook or paper pads to jot down a number as we are to doodle and daydream in our diaries.

The appeal of tailor-made

When you look at it, our enduring attachment to pocketbooks, bullet journals and notepads operates on many levels. In fact, digitalisation has seen paper journals and other stationery adapt and evolve, rather than lose popularity.

Many of us keep a paper journal and digital notes side by side, finding that they complement each other. Jotting down notes in your own volume isn’t just practical; it can also be a status symbol and an expression of one’s identity. Personalised stationery can now be designed online, customised and made-to-order, which keeps it relevant in the digital age. And in some ways, like a bespoke suit, it’s the analogue nature of pen and paper that is the ultimate luxury.

Furthermore, once something is put down on paper in ink, it can’t just be erased with a click. Paper has the gravitas that comes with tradition and ’real worldliness’; there’s a reason we still put our signature to legal contracts in ink. This is doubtless why companies looking to convey a commitment to quality and old-fashioned values will still utilise branded stationery. High-quality paper has a magic that takes the experience of writing to a new level.

The science of scribing

However, it’s not just tradition and sentiment that maintains the market for notebooks and their kin. It’s not a coincidence that global use of paper exercise books in schools is seeing sales of scholastic paper hold steady. The science backs up our choices when it comes to education.

Most recently, a 2017 study from Indiana University showed that manipulating a pen or pencil to physically recreate shapes lays crucial foundations for literacy in children. Recruiting both motor and visual systems and engaging cognitive recognition fires young brains on multiple levels, helping us to learn and remember.

On top of this, there are plenty of studies showing that we retain substantially more information when we handwrite notes rather than type them. This adds an important layer to the utility of paper notebooks, whether used by for career professionals, busy parents or students.

Source: Karin H. James (2017) The Importance of Handwriting Experience on the Development of the Literate Brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science 1–7.

3 notebook trends

1. 100% customised

Personalisation of notebooks is the new black in the world of branding. Branded journal is an efficient way to build a company’s image.


2. Handmade art

Online marketplaces have a wide selection of handmade journals for all tastes. Handmade represents a growing respect for craftsmanship and good materials.


3. Good for the planet

Fun and funky notebooks can be made from sustainable and renewable materials. The demand for sustainable production is rising among the conscientious consumer.