As I was sitting here this morning, wondering what to write, I stared blankly at my keyboard. My mind wandered (as usual) completely off-topic and I began to think about the keyboard… Then the engineer in me took over. In terms of an efficient tool for writing words in the English language, the modern keyboard really isn’t a great design. ‘E’ and ‘T’ are the most common letters in the alphabet, yet you need to move your fingers to type them. That sounds a lot like the EXACT OPPOSITE of efficiency! And on top of that, popular letter #3 (also known as ‘A’) can only be typed using the weakest and most difficult to control finger in the human body!! That’d be the left pinkie finger for those of you who haven’t had an anatomy class in a while. (Yes, I did completely make that up…) As you can see, this is already a mess and we haven’t even gotten to why the heck the easiest key to type is occupied by the letter ‘J’?!? For real, who needs to type ‘J’ that easily? It’s in approximately 5.21 words and used about as frequently as ‘Q’ (which may be the only letter actually in the location it deserves–along with ‘Z’ and ‘X’ I suppose).
Keeping this all in mind, I thought to myself… “People are fairly intelligent; an engineer designing a keyboard would want to make it as efficient as possible… That’s what an engineer’s job is… There must be a good reason for this nonsense.” Well it turns out that–after rigorous hours upon hours of research (or just 5 minutes on wikipedia)–I discovered that the keyboard was designed to be as efficient as possible!
It all comes down to the fact that the original keyboard was designed for a typewriter, not a computer. Back in the old days, keyboards were composed of long metal levers with letters on the ends (see image below, courtesy of wikipedia). If you typed two letters next to one another at the same time or in rapid succession, it would jam the typewriter. After complex mathematical calculations with some integrals and exponents and lots of factorials, the engineers designing the keyboard determined that it takes a hell-of-a-lot longer to un-jam the typewriter than to move your finger one inch. A truly breakthrough discovery in the science of fingerphysics and typing. So, like good little engineers, they moved letters that were commonly paired together farther apart, which slowed down typing efficiency, but decreased overall typing time by preventing jamming! And thus, to our dismay in the modern world… QWERTY was born.
The original purpose of QWERTY is obviously no longer applicable, but we still have to stare at it (or not if you are super awesome at typing) day in and day out. Typewriters were so widely adopted that typing on the QWERTY keyboard couldn’t be changed. No one would have wanted to switch to a computer if they had to learn an entire new way of typing. Of course, nowadays there are other options, like the DVORAK keyboard, which is specifically designed to reduce finger movements and typing errors. Yet, still, despite it’s ENORMOUS inefficiency, QWERTY is the reigning champion of our hearts… All because some engineers decided to do their jobs right. Thanks… Thanks a lot…
** No keyboards were harmed during the making of this post **