The digitization of many aspects of our lives, including work, has made many processes much simpler and more comfortable. However, the virtual environment is still extremely new for humanity compared to everything analog that governed the lives of our ancestors for hundreds of years, and our brains are still influenced by ideas strongly ingrained for generations about many of these physical objects. It is the case of paper and pencil.
Why? According to a joint study by the universities of Chicago (USA) and Zhejiang (China), human beings continue to consider everything that is reflected on paper more serious, which leads us to make more virtuous decisions if we see them or commit ourselves to them on a page. The study authors point out that the manuscripts make our brains feel the decision as more real and, therefore, more representative of who we are, so we are more careful and tend to be more honest with it.
Better decisions. This, transferred to the workplace, would imply that, by putting a difficult decision on paper, we can come to feel the weight of its implications as more real, which would lead our brains to evaluate it more carefully and, consequently, to value better the pros and cons and end up adopting the resolution that best represents us.
Similarly, from a business point of view, the study’s authors point out that customers can also be more interested in a service or product if they see it on paper and it fits with their values. This would be the reason, the research indicates, why many NGOs continue to carry out recruitment campaigns on the street.
“We asked participants to make these types of choices using a paper form or a digital tablet, and despite controlling for all other variables, we found that people using paper made more virtuous decisions than those using a digital format. For example, participants who read their options and made a paper selection were significantly more likely to donate money to charity, choose a healthy main course, and opt for an educational book rather than something more entertaining.
dark reverse. The results of this study also have a dark side. If the decisions we make in digital environments feel less real, we will have fewer qualms about taking actions that, face to face, we would tend to think twice about, would go against our principles or make us feel very uncomfortable. Like, for example, massively firing a company’s employees in the same Zoom video call.
Paper as a tool, not as collateral. The authors of the study warn that using paper, however, is not a guarantee of virtuosity or making better decisions, but rather it would be a mere tool to try to clarify ideas, feel more realistically the effect of what we resolve and reflect more deeply on it.
Likewise, they underline that they are aware that in many contexts today it is impossible or much less efficient to use paper as a tool, such as in communications between remote workers or online purchases. But it can be used to put in writing what we want to communicate to coworkers, bosses or employees and evaluate our words more thoroughly or to make a list of pros and cons of a certain purchase.
Image | Kenny Eliason
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism