Monday, July 18, 2011

Why QWERTY?

In the last two months, I've typed around 2,00,000 words. I didn't realise how many words people speak in an hour, till I started transcribing interviews for a research project at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. About 10 minutes of clear recorded tape takes about an hour to transcribe. I had 20 hours of videos to work with. And though most of the content was in English, there were generous helpings of Hindi too. We Indians love to talk. And we have no respect for grammar, punctuation or pronunciation, when we do. So here I was trying to make sense of nonsense and put it down in the form of text that could be read and analysed (it was for, after all, a research project). An hour's time of video interview transcribes into roughly 8,000 words... in some cases, upto 10,000. My fingers were sore with all that typing (in spite of taking 15-minute breaks) and I cursed my QWERTY keyboard. Why? Because, in Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs and Steel, I'd read that the QWERTY keyboard 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 all over the keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left-hand side (where right-handed people have to use their weaker hand). The reason behind all these 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 per cent. But the QWERTY keyboards we solidly entrenched by then." And since the vested interests of hundreds of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople and manufacturers have crushed all moves for keyboard efficiency for over 60 years, new generations of humans are being redesigned to use keyboards, instead of the other way round. I'm still on the lookout for an ergonomic keyboard. Any suggestions?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very very well written ...

Thank you for sharing the knowledge and insights