For the Love of a Keyboard
I recently showed up with a band new gleaming white PS/2 tactile keyboard from some knock off maker. Like all of these mechanical keyboards it was a bit stiff to start with but now types rather awesome. I got a lot of “old school” ribbing and comments about my age, especially since the desktop unit I brought had an actual DVD and an LS-120 drive. No, the machine wasn’t ancient, it was my 6-core AMD with 24 Gig of RAM. Keyboard discussions kept coming up as one dude there kept trying to pawn off the only Microsoft hardware debacle larger than the Zune, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard
Some of you in the writing world will opt for an actual typewriter. Others will still use a pen for first draft. Most of us use a keyboard. Yes, I’m fully aware of the hundreds, possibly thousands of different types each technology has. For now we are only discussing keyboards which work with real computers. Those of you unfortunate enough to own Apple products have my deepest sympathies. Odds of you becoming a decent writer are slim to none. I don’t mean a rich and famous writer, just one which turns out prose worth reading.
Wish I could find the link to the study done before Apple was belly up booting Steve Jobs to the curb, but seems buried in search engine hell. During that time a study was done with school children and writing. One group of students used Apple writing software which had all kinds of pretty formatting options and another group used, I believe, Word Perfect with its stark blue screen. The study found students using the less visually appealing writing software wrote better content with fewer grammatical and content errors. The Apple group produced content which looked great but was filled with grammar and content errors.
The study I’m talking about seems to be overshadowed by the current war over the death of cursive writing. Many of the arguments coming to light in the discussion of college students taking notes by hand vs computer are the same from that original study so many decades ago. They even come up in the renewed discussion over shorthand. I must admit to having taken shorthand in high school. Couldn’t read or write it on a bet now. Part of me wishes I still knew it and part of me is glad I don’t. Why? The more limited your tools, the more focused you are on the content.
One argument against both computer note taking and shorthand is the lack of conscious thought. To achieve the blinding speed of either technology you must divorce yourself from thought. The sounds enter your mind instantly exiting your fingers or pen. All focus is on capturing the sound. When you are in a writer’s zone listening to your characters telling their story this is awesome. Those few times my characters are speaking and their surroundings are visible in my mind I can churn out tens of thousands of words, most of which will survive the editing process. When they stop talking and the scene isn’t rendered whole in my mind is when speed is my enemy. Much of what gets written then ends up getting cut into fodder files which may or may not see the light of day again.
Taking notes by hand is much like showing up at a drag strip with a turbo Yugo. You know you don’t have a prayer so you are forced to focus on what really matters. Admittedly the taking of notes by hand is set up for when college kids didn’t have to work or carry a massive class load. One is supposed to take notes about the most important things only then go back to read the chapter again making formal notes. One is supposed to have a scratch notebook they carry to class and a “good” or “formal” notebook they create by filling in the details around the scratch notes. This multi-sense and multi-pass approach yields a much higher retention level. We’ve known that for decades. We’ve also known for decades most graduates will not end up working in their chosen field of study, hence the argument against trying to remember everything.
Ask yourself this question. How many people did you go to school with who actually ended up working in a profession of their coursework even 5 or 10 years out of school? I feel blessed and fortunate to have worked 30+ years in what I went to school for, but even I have drifted from it. Why do you think I write all of these books and blog posts? Interests change. Even when interests don’t change market realities get forced upon you. During the era of “right sizing” a good many people left IT never to return. Some popped back in to cash the Y2K paychecks then left for good but most who were culled in that great financial fraud moved on to other career paths because they needed to both eat and live indoors.
Things have been the same in the world of keyboards. In my stack of “spare” keyboards I still have an original IBM PS/2 keyboard. I break it out from time to time. Most of today’s kids wouldn’t be able to type at all on the mechanical keyboards of yesteryear while use older folks can only tolerate the barely there feel of a membrane keyboard for so long.
Imagine how shocked I was to stumble across a discussion of how to convert an old school mechanical keyboard to blue tooth. Imagine how the shock was increased when a link to an article in the Raspberry PI world provided detailed instructions on how to blue tooth enable an IBM PS/2 keyboard.
You don’t have to go home again if you choose to never leave it.