Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Key (02/14/13)
By Laura Hawbaker
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Thirty years ago I sat in Mr. White’s high school typing class, hands on home row, fingers lightly flying over the keys of my electric typewriter. Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, ding, pinky on the return key, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, ding, pinky on the return key…
Ten years ago my daughter sat in front of the computer, hands on home row, watching a “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” CD, softly tapping out the letters, giving no thought to the approaching end of the line.
Notice the similarity over the past three generations of typing?
I remember being fascinated with the mysterious arrangement of letters on my mother’s clunky black manual typewriter. Mom was a fast typist, pounding out letters and stories without so much as a glance at the keys. How did she do that? When I played with her typewriter I had to painstakingly hunt for each letter. The “A” was easy enough, but why did they put the “B” clear over there? And why was the “N” before the “M”?
After a few weeks in Mr. White’s class, the mystery was revealed. Home row became very familiar and letter by letter I memorized the entire keyboard. Amazingly, I could soon type as effortlessly as my mother and even more amazing, I still can! Of all the facts, lessons and skills I was taught in high school, the skill of typing is the one I use every day. I never sit down at the keyboard and think, “Now where did Mr. White tell me to put my fingers? Where is that “B” anyway?”
The keyboard we are all know so well, the QWERTY keyboard, (named after the delightful word formed by the first six letters) came about in an effort to relieve a mechanical difficulty in the first typewriters. When Christopher Shoels invented the typewriter in 1866 he logically arranged the letters in alphabetical order. Each key was attached to a lever that was imprinted with the reverse image of the letter. Typists soon discovered that when they hit two keys on the same side of the keyboard in rapid succession, the lever going up would become tangled with the lever going down, very frustrating for the speedy typist!
James Dunsmore, a business associate of Sholes, came up with the idea of separating letters that are frequently pressed in sequence, thus the seemingly odd arrangement of the keyboard. Apparently this solved—or at least lessened—the problem of jamming.
Occasionally, in the name of ergonomics and efficiency, someone suggests an alternate keyboard, but like an old dog, no one seems too interested in learning new tricks. The typewriter and keyboard have obviously evolved through the years, but thankfully good old QWERTY remains!
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