NYT Magazine on Livescribe

By James Fallows

Good to see a long, very interesting story on the Livescribe pen today in the NYT Magazine.

Thumbnail image for IMG_7876.JPGFor background info, and on the hallowed "get your tech news early and often from the Atlantic!" principle, here is my report back in July 2009 on how the pen had changed my working life, plus later here and here. (Photo of my original pen set, at left.)

What is especially valuable about this new NYT story, in my view, is its exploration of the very process of note-taking -- something I have spent much of my working life reflecting on -- and the mainly-valuable change in that process brought about by this seemingly simple device. For instance, Clive Thompson, the story's author, says this about classroom use of the pen:

>>Some [students] found the pens make class less stressful; because they don't need to worry about missing something, they feel freer to listen to what Licata [a teacher] says. When they do take notes, the pen alters their writing style: instead of verbatim snippets of Licata's instructions, they can write "key words" -- essentially little handwritten tags that let them quickly locate a crucial moment in the audio stream.>>

And, about the very process that goes on during note-taking:

>>Yet most students are very bad at taking notes. [An academic's] research has found that students record about a third of the critical information they hear in class. Why? Because note-taking is a surprisingly complex mental activity. It heavily taxes our "working memory" -- the volume of information we can consciously hold in our heads and manipulate. Note-taking requires a student to listen to a teacher, pick out the most important points and summarize and record them, while trying not to lose the overall drift of the lecture. (The very best students do even more mental work: they blend what they're hearing with material they already know and reframe the concepts in their own words.) Given how jampacked this task is, "transcription fluency" matters: the less you have to think about the way you're recording notes, the better. When you're taking notes, you want to be as fast and as automatic as possible.<<

As I mentioned in my magazine story about the pen's creator, he is a serial entrepreneur with many successes behind him. This deserves to be another hit.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/09/nyt-magazine-on-livescribe/63207/