Saturday, November 12, 2011


By Keith N Fisher

Like most of those in my generation, I took a typing class in junior high. I recall sitting behind a typewriter, trying to find the “D”. We had a chart on the wall that showed the placement of all the keys, but we weren’t supposed to look at it. I had to close my eyes and try to remember.

I wondered why the letters weren’t just placed in order. You know start at the top with “A” and move down the keyboard until you find “Z”. It didn’t make any sense.

When I found out, however, why the keys were placed like they are, I nodded my head and understood. After the invention of the inline typewriter, proficiency of the users caused a problem. The type bars would often get tangled on the backstroke with the following bar. To avoid the problem of jammed keys the inventors mixed up the keyboard to slow down the typists.

Having spent hours typing on an old manual typewriter, I can understand. Even with the confusing placement, my keys often got tangled with each other. Now, after all these years, I’m vaguely familiar with the keyboard. I also use a computer that reacts to each stroke in quicker time than even my mind can function. I don’t need the “A” in the top left corner, because I’m used to having the “Q” up there.

I still wonder if an inline placement could help though, and some keyboards are laid out that way, but it’s okay. You see, when I’m composing off the top of my head, as if I were speaking, I write pretty fast. My fingers become an extension of my mind and words flow fast enough for me.

On the other hand, I’ve taken typing tests that made me feel like a ninth-grader again. I’m slower than glacial ice. Instead of typing word for word from the test sheet, I tend to read the thing, take time to comprehend it, then type what it said. Sometimes, I even have to visualize the chart to remember the keyboard placement. Well, I hate timed tests anyway.

Now, as if to add insult to injury, designers keep placing the keys closer together. Laptops are getting smaller. We have netbooks that seem to be made for a four-year old typist, or one-handed users. My big fingers feel cramped, and I tend to type the wrong letter. Editing, while writing, seems to be the wave of the future for me. Maybe I should adopt the two-thumb texting, method of writing.

Or maybe, I need to put my fingers on a diet. Perhaps, Mrs. Woodward standing over me with a stopwatch, making sure my eyes never stray to the chart on the wall. Of course in those days, the keys were almost an inch apart. If you wanted to type a letter, you had to mean it. Therefore, your finger muscles had to be strong.

Later, with electric typewriters, they eliminated the need to press hard, but the keys were sensitive. If the user held a finger down too long, the letter would appear more than once. I guess that’s still possible with computers, but the timing has been perfected to prevent accidental doubles.

Yes, writing is not for the faint of heart. If it’s any consolation, most of the classical writers we admire didn’t type. I think I’ll stick to writing from the top of my head, and try to avoid typing tests.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

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