QWERTY!

Today I installed the Swiftkey virtual keyboard on my android phone. One of the ways I could customize the keyboard was by selecting either the QWERTY or AZERTY layouts (name for the first six keys in the top row). I thought, “I really prefer the AZERTY layout, because of the way I scan and type, but since every physical keyboard I have seen is QWERTY, there must be a good reason for that.” No, not anymore. Here is an excerpt from a book I am reading:

Still another factor is compatibility with vested interests. This book, like probably every other typed document you have ever read, was typed with a QWERTY keyboard, named for the left-most six letters in its upper row. Unbelievable as it may now sound, that keyboard layout was designed in 1873 as a feat of anti-engineering. It employs a whole series of perverse tricks designed to force typists to type as slowly as possible, such as scattering the commonest letters over all keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left side (where right-handed people have to use their weaker hand). The reason behind all of those seemingly counterproductive features is that the typewriters of 1873 jammed if adjacent keys were struck in quick succession, so that manufacturers had to slow down typists. When improvements in typewriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent. But QWERTY keyboards were solidly entrenched by then. The vested interests of hundreds of millions of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople, and manufacturers have crushed all moves toward keyboard efficiency for over 60 years.”

Don’t we feel stupid?

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

2 thoughts on “QWERTY!”

  1. There is one comment I read that indicates the savings in time and effort in switching to, say, the Dvorak keyboard, isn’t that great.
    Lots of big companies had large typing pools. If the Dvorak keyboard had increased efficiency that much, it would have paid some large company to hire a bunch of people, train them on that keyboard, and take advantage of having more efficient typists — who, by the way, would be trapped working there until and unless someone else started using Dvorak keyboards.

    It’s kind of the same argument as, if women really get paid 75% for doing the same work men do, some employer could fire all the male employees, replace them with females, and pocket the difference in pay.

    The fact that they don’t, in both cases, says something.

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    1. Before I read the real reason the QWERTY keyboard layout was adopted, I engaged in the fallacy that “if something is widespread, it must work better.” I would not have applied such flawed reasoning to the “herd mentality” that the majority of people adopt. So if something is widespread, it probably represents the course of least resistance.

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