Perhaps you’ve heard the story of how many, many years ago, typists were too fast for the old-style keyboards, so they made the letter arrangement inefficient to slow people down. It’s a good story. It’s not entirely true. In 1868, Christopher (good name) Sholes filed a patent for a brand new futuristic type machine that would revolutionize the world. It was called the typewriter. The keys were originally in alphabetic order. The original bars swung upward when a key was pressed and used gravity to return (think an action like a grand piano). If two keys next to each other were pressed in rapid succession, the bars would jam (this part of the legend is true).
After working with a few collaborators and finding common letter pairs, or digraphs (don’t say I’ve never had anything educational on this site), Sholes came up with a completely random arrangement of letters made to maximize the separation of digraphs.
Now, here is where the legend doesn’t quite hold up – Sholes did this work in order to come up with a working prototype of his invention. The new key arrangement didn’t completely eliminate the jams, but it greatly reduced them. The legend is that he did it to slow down typists – there were no typists to slow down as the typewriter was still a prototype in his garage, or horse stall, or wherever guys went to get away from their wives for a while back then.
Sholes was an inventor – not a business man, so after a few years, he sold his rights to one of the collaborators, James Densmore. Densmore promptly went to Remington and convinced them to start mass production in 1873.
The typewriter was set up in such a way that you couldn’t actually see what you were typing as you typed it. It didn’t sell very well. (Imagine typing a page of text on your computer, hitting print, and then looking at that page to see if you made any mistakes. Go back and retype the whole thing if you did. I wouldn’t have bought one either. (Well, maybe I would have, because I’m a nerd who likes technology like that, but I hope you wouldn’t have bought one.))
In 1878, the Remington Number Two was created for public use. It had springs that snapped the bars back much quicker than the original and it used the method we all think of when we imagine an old typewriter – you could actually see the text as you typed it.
It was a hit.
Sholes came back with a better keyboard layout, since the reason he originally designed the QWERTY layout was to separate all the digraphs. Remington had no desire to change something that was selling so well. It became ingrained in all Americans learning to type that this was how the keys should be, just because that’s how they are.
Enter Dr. Dvorak – through real scientific research, the details of which I will spare you (and avoid having to type long stretches of boring material), he devised an optimized layout of keys. It increased accuracy and efficiency in typing. So who wanted to change? The typewriter manufacturers were making plenty of money, thank you. The government? Well, when was the last time you associated our government with accurate and efficient?
I thought so.
Here is the Dvorak layout.
Here is how to switch your computer to use Dvorak.
I printed out a copy of the key arrangement and used that to type this article. It’s a little challenging.
But on the bright side – how great a practical joke will it be to switch a friends a computer and watch them type gibberish because none of the keys output the expected letters.
Sorry for the nerd interruption. I now return you to your regularly scheduled glimpse into Chris and Rhiannon’s boring existence.