Friday, December 23, 2011

Is touch-typing relevant in the 'i' universe?

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? Other People’s Money (1991)

How do you know when a skill is becoming obsolete?

How many of you can touch-type? I don’t mean pecking around the keyboard whether fast or slow; I mean always keeping your index fingers hovered over the ‘home keys’, not looking at the keyboard and cracking out 60 to 90 words per minute using *the correct fingers*.

Touch typing emerged the the late 1880s as a classic before our time technology skill. The need for speed, it seems, led to the development of the QWERTY keyboard which laid out keys in a way that didn’t cause ‘finger jams’ in common English words and the development of a way of typing that increased speed, decreased movement and enabled the typist to say “look! No eyes!”. Classic ergonomic efficiency.

We’ve kept the QWERTY keyboard but most people I ask *say* they can touch-type but really they hunt and peck with one two or five fingers or get confused if they need to use anything other than their thumbs. Has the need for speed and efficiency really diminished over time?

At a recent meeting of middle-aged mothers (AKA bookgroup) we were tut-tutting the demise of proper touch-typing lessons. Why don’t schools teach touch typing? With a stick wrapping the knuckles of poor typists until they reach 60 words per minute? Oh, we had all tried the touch-typing computer programs. I even bought a Spongebob Squarepants version to entice my kids. But we all felt there was no substitution for sitting in front of an IBM Golfball typewriter with a dour lady calling out letters and covering our hands with a cloth.

I am a touch typist who suffered under the stick of a strict typing teacher. I proudly type FAST and earnt extra cash at uni typing up other people’s assignments. Over the past few weeks I consciously considered how much touch-typing I still did. I typed at work (emails, mostly, and the occasional report), home (again emails, mostly), on my phone (texting). The vast majority of my typing was short bursts on my phone or iPad with texting or facebook or quick email messages.

And then it hit me. I was consciously looking for opportunities to use my skill because most devices make in near impossible to touch-type.

Touch-typing is fine if in front of a computer like I am now but on a phone, tablet computer or anything with a non-tactile keyboard or too small to use anything but thumbs then touch-typing seems completely irrelevant. Thumb typing becomes a very important skill – especially being able to type an ‘m’ on a touch screen without deleting several previous letters (or is this only me?) – and a lot of the touch screens I use really only have room for 2-3 fingers at a time.

My 11yo son claims to have learnt touch-typing at school. It’s not touch-typing. I’m not sure what it is, but it is fast. Fast enough to punch out a message and turn off the computer/ipad/phone/video game before his mother can walk from one side of the room to the other to check what he is up to.

So is touch typing a critical skill that is not taught *properly* to our children, or is it an obsolete skill to be abandoned in favour of ergonomic thumb typing? Before you answer, spend some time examining your own typing world and that of your children. I certainly couldn’t find too many devices with the room for all 10 phalanges.


Alison said...

I suspect there is a need for a new form of 'touch-typing' - based on the ergonomics of touch screens.

Despite having also suffered old-school typing lessons, I have always typed with my own self-taught version of 'touch-typing' - no eyes, about six fingers used in total. I know that I can easily manage 60 words per minute with pretty good accuracy, and I've never had any need to go any faster than that.

When it comes to touch-screens however, my method doesn't work so well. But who does have a good touch-screen method? I know several members of my family use styluses (stylii?) to type on the iPads, as they are phobic about fingerprints on the screen, but to me that seems painfully slow.

I wonder if some ergonomic PhD student is working on this very issue as we speak...or rather, as we type!

Mary said...

I touch type - I took lessons when I lived in Hong Kong and I am very happy I did. I use my laptop a lot and have found it very useful.

I wonder whether my kids will need to learn when (if) they go to Uni for assignments etc.?

Gigi Ann said...

I suppose I touch-type if I understand it correctly. I use the keyboard, with all my fingers in use.

On my phone when I text, I use which ever finger works best. Sometimes a thumb, and sometimes a finger. I'm still trying to figure out which is the fastest.

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Melinda said...

I don't text much at all, so touch-typing is still my primary method of communicating with print. My index fingers hover over the home keys and I struggle with texting (I have an old school phone and pre-teen kids, so I rarely actually do it anyway).

And I cannot, CANNOT type c, r, and u as WORDS instead of letters!