Are These Old-Fashioned Skills Worth Learning?

With technology present in all areas of our lives, the old-fashioned analogue ways of working can seem obsolete. But do these traditional skills still have value in a modern workplace?


There was a time when a journalist needed a strong grasp of shorthand in order to do their job. It was vital for transcribing interviews quickly and accurately before the arrival of dictaphones.

Using abbreviations and symbols is much quicker than writing longhand, with users recording around one hundred words per minute. However, with some journalism courses dropping the skill entirely, is it still worth learning?

Shorthand definitely has its fans. Some find it vital for taking accurate minutes in important meetings. Others note the situations where using dictaphones just isn’t possible or allowed, such as when recording courtroom proceedings. In these cases, reporters rely on their written notes to write up their work. And there’s always the possibility of your equipment failing at a crucial moment…

However, shorthand can be slow and difficult to learn, and is virtually useless if you aren’t fluent. Besides, when you can use a dictaphone, it is often preferable to writing things down.

Audio recordings provide evidence that an exchange really did take place, so are considered more trustworthy than scribbled notes. Plus, by recording an interview, you can give your full attention to the other party without having to keep looking down at your notepad.

Overall, shorthand may be worth the effort for trainee reporters, but most people can do without this skill.

Touch typing

Many of us are pretty quick at typing now, as we use computers so much at work and at home, but the skill of touch typing with all ten fingers is relatively uncommon. It harks back to the days of the typewriter, when correcting a mistake was trickier than just pressing Delete. However, can touch typing still increase your writing speed, accuracy, and productivity?

The answer seems to be no. Studies suggest that people who type regularly with only a couple of fingers are as fast and precise as their touch typing colleagues.

They will also be typing in a way that is natural to them. Learning to touch type when you can already type confidently involves unlearning old habits just to replace them with an equivalent system. It hardly seems worth the effort.

Besides, with the improvements in speech-to-text technology, traditional ways of typing are likely to change again over the next decade, making it even less relevant.

Mental arithmetic

Most of us are unlikely to use maths and equations outside of a spreadsheet, but there is evidence that having a grasp of mental arithmetic is a valuable life skill.

It doesn’t have to be about complicated formulae; it’s more about having a sense of how numbers work and what kind of result you can expect from a calculation. If we only ever plug sums into a machine, we lose our understanding of what those numbers mean. This puts us at risk of missing simple errors or an anomalous result. Even having the basics helps us better appreciate the meaning behind the figures.

Basic financial transactions are also easier if you have mental maths, from ensuring you can afford that impulse purchase to checking the change you receive back. With more transactions happening by card or online, we’re distanced from the value of our money, which can have implications at home and in the workplace.

Technology means we can get by without mental maths, but our relationship with numbers suffers as a result. Taking the time to master the basics can have a positive effect on your confidence dealing with figures, as well as speed up the numerical work you have to do every day.

Are these skills worth it?

Although the old-fashioned skills have often died out for a reason, the principles behind them are still sound. Even with technology and apps available, it makes sense to know how to handle numbers without them and to be able to get thoughts and ideas onto paper or your computer screen as quickly and accurately as possible.

They won’t be worth it for everyone, but tightening up your skills away from the computer might give you the edge in a competitive work environment.

Emma Millward is a writer and editor based in Birmingham. You can see examples of her work on her website and follow her on Twitter.

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