Thursday, June 25, 2009


Freshman year of high school I took a typing class for the first quarter of the year. I hated it. We sat row upon row with electric typewriters in front of us and typed endless exercises designed to force our fingers through every permutation of letters, numbers, symbols, and capitalization. The stated intent was to teach us to become touch typists, never needing to look at the keyboard and capable of 60 words per minute.

I was horrible at it.

I learned the finger placement and the fingering sequence but it was a nightmare. It just didn't make sense. The muscle memory for all 10 fingers never established itself in my brain. Sure, I got to the point where I was pretty fast but not when I was 10-finger touch typing. I found myself knowing where every key was and capable of hitting them (mostly) unerringly without looking but only while using 2-4 fingers.

Needless to say, that didn't go over too well with the teacher, an elderly battleaxe who I recall took great joy in pointing out our failures. If she'd been allowed to rap our knuckles with a wooden ruler, I think she would have carried two so she could whack two of us while simultaneously providing an object lesson on the need for coordination between both hands. And so I suffered through it for the first quarter of my freshman year hating the fact that my parents had recommended I take the elective.

It was a few years later that I found out why touch typing never made sense to me. It's because the keyboard didn't make sense. The QUERTY layout we've all been using was designed specifically to slow people down and prevent keyjams on old manual keyboard! Personally, I always thought that was cool when I was a kid and would try to see how many keys I could get jammed up at once on my dad's old green manual typewriter (sorry, Dad!).

You would think that with the advent of personal computers that can clearly keep up with even the fastest fingers on the planet the manner in which we actually type would evolve alongside. Obviously, as I sit here typing away on my Mac's QWERTY keyboard, that hasn't happened. Sure, there have been some alternatives proposed but nothing has managed to displace the venerable, frustrating QWERTY. Even efforts to slightly modify the layout result in howls of outrage. The simple fact that computer maker Lenovo is changing the height of the DELETE and ESCAPE keys is noteworthy enough to warrant an 800-word article in the Associated Press (and inspire this blog entry, in case you were wondering).

Now of course, I'm a professional writer and occasionally spend achingly long hours in front of my computer. My style of typing, while much faster than hunt-and-peck, certainly isn't 100 words per minute but I rattle along at a pretty good clip. Do I wish there was an easier way that would allow me to be faster? Sure. Do I want to force myself to learn touch typing or a new keyboard layout 26 years after I first tried? Nope. That old battleaxe at least drilled into my head where the keys were, even if my fingers were never where she expected them to be.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Never took a typing class and after umpteen years of typing still have to look at the keyboard. QWERTY never settled into my fingers or my brain.