Why We Should Stick To Qwerty
Computer Science 10
The Qwerty keyboard – named Qwerty because the letters q, w, e, r, t, y are
arranged next to each other – has been the universal standard since the
beginning of the 1890s. Since then, there have been many proposals by other
keyboard makers to market products that would enable users to type faster.
Other proposals put the most frequently used letters – dhiatensor – in the
middle row.i Although these keyboards enable users to type far faster than the
qwerty keyboard, they are rarely sold. There are several reasons for this.
First, there is no need for the regular users to type any faster than at the
current speed. Second, for the people whose job require fast typing, the new
keyboards can lead to bigger health problems that develop from continuous typing.
Third, and most importantly, standardization has led the qwerty keyboards to
firmly hold the position as the keyboard.
There are major differences between the two types of keyboard users; the regular
users and the other typists. The regular users are people who uses the keyboard
for word processing, e-mailing, and internet; there is not much of a need for
them to type extremely fast. They do not type mechanically but rather based on
their thought, and thinking takes time. In other words, faster keyboards are
irrelevant for them because they are not continuously typing. They need to
think what they are going to write, one sentence one after another.
On the other hand, the typists whose job is simply to type, do so continuously.
They also happen to be the major victims of repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) which
is in large part caused by continuously stroking the keyboards. In an article
about RSI, Huff explains the changes that the companies are undergoing to become
more productive: Many work practices are changing with automation to increase
productivity. These include fewer staff, heavier workloads, more task
specialization, faster pacing of work, fewer rest breaks, more overtime, more
shift work and nonstandard hours, and more piece work and bonus systems. These
work practices can entail very prolonged rapid or forceful repetitive motions
leading to fatigue and overuse of muscles.ii
Because RSI is a major problem to the typists, it would be a suicidal move for
them to adopt faster typable keyboards. More of them will develop RSI. As for
the companies that hire these typists, not only will the frequency of RSI
development increase, the amount of money that the companies have to compensate
to the employees who develop RSI will also increase. The fact that the qwerty
keyboard is less efficient presents typists from getting more serious health
Finally, the role of standardization greatly influences where the qwerty stand
in the keyboard market. Once the qwerty was standardized, no other types of
keyboards could enter into competition regardless of how much more efficient
they were. That is because a standardized layout enables users to have to know
just one kind of layout. Keyboard layout is like different languages. If there
are different languages being spoken when people are trying to communicate with
each other, it becomes very difficult to understand. The communication would be
very inefficient. What if a new keyboard becomes standardized? Navy studies in
the 1940s showed that the change from qwerty to a more efficient keyboard would
pay for itself within 10 days.iii However, this study shows the result from the
corporation’s view. Although corporations will certainly be able to make more
money out of same amount of time by adopting the new keyboard, there are other
factors that are not taken into account – human cost. If the new, more
efficient keyboards are to be standardized, there would be enormous spending on
reeducation, relearning, repurchasing, and replacement. The cost of doing this
would be enormous.
In short, the qwerty keyboard is efficient enough for people to use. It’s fast
enough for regular users, and it’s slow enough for typists to avoid further
health problems. And, attempt to standardize a new keyboard would be extremely
difficult and expensive. Yet, people might not even have to concern themselves
with the keyboards anymore soon. The advancement of technology keeps bringing
wonders to the world. In near future, voice recognition programs using
microphones, might replace keyboards. Then, RTI – Repetitive Talking Injury –
might be a big issue. Who knows? i Huff, C., “Putting technology in its place”
in Social Issues in Computing, Huff, C. and Finholt T. (Eds), McGraw Hill. 1994,
pp. 2. ii Huff, C., “Computing and your health” in Social Issues in Computing,
Huff, C. and Finholt T. (Eds), McGraw Hill. 1994, pp. 103-104. iii Huff, C.,
“Putting technology in its place” in Social Issues in Computing, Huff, C. and
Finholt T. (Eds), McGraw Hill. 1994, pp. 3.