I read a paper recently on the economics of the QWERTY keyboard. No, it’s not about how keyboards are priced – economics isn’t limited to just the study of money – it’s the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Basically the paper is about how we ended up with the standard keyboard layout we have today, approached from an historic and economic angle. Yes ladies, this is what I do with my spare time.
The paper explains how the keyboard layout first came about – it was first used to limit some mechanical issues and so salesmen could type TYPEWRITER using only the top row. But then the economics discussion comes in, how this became locked in as the standard despite better alternatives. Basically the layout had a narrow advantage because it was used by a slightly more popular typewriter manufacturer – and this narrow advantage snowballed over time.
Soon the keyboard became so entrenched that even a proven superior alternative couldn’t knock it off its perch. DVORAK is roughly 20% faster, leads to less errors, and reduces repetition injuries by moving your fingers less. Crazy.
Today you can easily switch you keyboard “layout” with software – basically remapping the keys to use the DVORAK layout (but when looking at it the stickers will still show QWERTY). So everyone has the option, but you won’t bother. Educating you that DVORAK is better isn’t enough to entice you to switch – information alone usually isn’t enough to change behavior! Ethos, pathos, logos! What if President Obama (or someone you really respect) told you to learn DVORAK because China is and going to dominate the US if we don’t all learn it. Slightly more effective than just spouting logic?
Now that I fully understand just how silly it is that we still use QWERTY, will I personally switch? I have a desire for efficiency, but there is a limit. You have to pick your battles – you can’t be perfectly efficient in every aspect of life. There is only so much time to perfect skills. But maybe your hobby is learning these esoteric skills rather than reading esoteric papers from the 80′s and pedantically writing about them. If so, here is another really neat one to try out – a font optimized for reading rather than writing called Dotsies.
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