For those who are imprisoned under 30 wpm hunt-and-peck typing, there is a better way, and effective ergonomic design can provide it. When the multiple ergonomic issues associated with the flat keyboard are addressed, the result can be a keyboard that makes it easier for people to learn touch-typing. The design itself should encourage the best method of using the tool. Touch-typing is better than hunt-and-peck, and the point of good ergonomics should be to help people to be more productive as well as less stressed.
The trouble is a little time is needed to learn and understand the better way. People give their time to such projects less easily than they give their money, even when the payoff on the invested time is enormous.
Throughout human history, people have been no less resistant to better ideas. When Jenner invented Smallpox vaccine, he was attacked by the medical profession, and no one would publish his findings. Smallpox victims went on dying by the thousands for decades. Some opposed any new ideas; others had vested interests in other less effective or ineffective forms of Smallpox treatment.
After Penicillin was discovered, it was not made publicly available for almost twenty years, and too soon after that it was being used in ways it should not have been. Too commonly, the world is ineffectively or hostilely skeptical at best about new ideas—or stupid at worst. People’s lives have come to depend on innovation, but still they resist it. When they resist they fail to analyze potentials or cost versus benefits. Instead, they wait for tribal endorsement. This way of behaving is written in human DNA.
Any ergonomic approach to keyboard entry worth its name, its price, and the time needed to invent it should be not only as quick to learn and to use as the flat keyboard, but it should be more productive, especially over multiple hours of work. Risk of injury from all the associated stress factors should be lowered ahead of anything else, but productivity improvement is the ultimate measure of the functionality of the innovation.
Stress relief without productivity improvement is useless. It leaves people marking time, unable to get ahead of entropy, and it provides no benefit from which to pay for the remedial innovation. If no net productivity benefit occurs, no one is likely to invest in the innovation except as a temporary act of charity—or unless the sellers are charlatans who make their living by selling snake oil.
To become a touch-typist on the flat keyboard, people must learn the abstracted kinetic feel of all the pertinent key sequences. These are essentially finger flight patterns executed without any instrument support and no landing lights. Because all the keys on the flat keyboard feel the same, without any differentiation, effectively learning to use them is hard.
Flat keyboards and all its various alternative versions all provide virtually no tactile feedback to the operator. These keyboards are all inherently inferior because they cannot overcome the barriers effective ergonomic design must knock down before it is any good.
When a better idea appears, people resent its improvements, because they have already invested in the old way. Resistance to learning new ways is a form of ego defense, like not walking out in front of a speeding truck. Some defend hunt and peck, trying to make it less stressful, while others defend touch-typing using an inadequate keyboard ideal, because that is all they know.
Learning to touch-type on the flat keyboard is so dauntingly unsupported biomechanically and so repudiating of natural biological intelligence, it is an awesome testimony to human adaptability that anyone can learn to do it at all, but people do not understand the stupidity of their commitments when they have no understood alternatives to compare with them. Those who know how to touch-type usually learned the skill so long ago they have lost track of how long it took them to become proficient. Often it took as much as six months of daily work to achieve reasonable proficiency. Because it took so long, some prefer to stick with hunt and peck, but they are wrong, too.
Both skills persist because they are tribally reinforced, but that should not be confused with being smart. Once an appropriate ergonomic keyboard is created with keys all feeling different and involving different movement directions, the nerve endings in the tips of the fingers take over the work of touch-typing in a way they cannot on the flat keyboard. The fingers do, by themselves, what the brain was once required to accomplish.
Touch-typing on a flat keyboard always involves some brain work, because the kinetic feel of all those finger flight patterns are elusive and challenging to master. This problem must be solved by making the keys differentiable to the touch. That is part of creating a keyboard with an ergonomic productivity advantage.
After the rationale behind a well-designed ergonomic keyboard concept is embraced, the process of learning to touch-type is made virtually automatic—once the feel of the keys is learned and each key movement is associated by the fingers with a particular letter, number, or symbol. The design of the keyboard should encourage the rapid learning of the most efficient method of working on it, and if it does not, more work is needed to refine the design. It should not matter how old the learners may be, because the learning reinforcements should overcome their physical barriers. They still have to overcome their psychological barriers or their own.
As long as people have feeling in their fingers and have no impairments to finger movement, they can learn the more efficient idea. The design should greatly assist them to become more proficient as well as less stressed, and if it cannot, more work is needed to improve the design.
Although younger people learn faster, older people are not too old to learn—if the human factors are correctly analyzed in designing the system. As a result, they can stop needing more time and risking more stress while doing the same amount of work.
This model illustrates just one example of the way quality ergonomic design overcomes the disastrous agonies associated with unconscious, old-fashioned ways of doing things. Without wanting to assault anyone unfairly for trying to make marginal improvements in existing systems, when that may be the best people can achieve temporarily, talking about ways of making hunt and peck typing more ergonomic is like hooking up a team of horses to an Abrams tank or to an Indianapolis racing car and being proud about the locomotion. Under such a scenario, the practicing ergonomist will have punted over 95% of the creativity and vision that should be associated with ergonomic design.
Ergonomic design, at its best, should not be about patching up the old system with Band-Aids; it should be about reconceiving it, so all the productivity and stress issues can be improved in concert with each other through the creation of the most efficient tool. If ergonomic practitioners cannot do better than horse and buggy fixes, they need to go back to the drawing board to reconceive their mission in the world.
Ergonomists who spend time tweaking inadequate ideas to make them marginally better need to stretch themselves to higher levels of performance—to discover a better tool and work process paradigm for each stressful task. Keyboard improvement and helping those still imprisoned by hunt and peck typing is a good place to start, because they are caught in the 21st century self-punitive equivalent of the pillory and the stocks. Touch-typing on the flat keyboard is bad enough without consigning people to something far worse. Much better is possible, and ergonomists should have the vision to point toward it.
Since I was the person who responded positively to the correct ergonomics application of so-called “Hunt and Peck” typing, I simply wish to reiterate again that I (and those that have adopted a similar solution to the issue) no longer consider ourselves H&P typists.
While we do not use all eight digits, we neverless type at speeds which we do not find “imprisoning”, but rather at speeds which enables thoughtful and accurate composition. If we wanted to type at speeds equalling speech speed, I for one would use the telephone.
High speed typing has been shown to be a precursor of several lower arm tissue injuries. 200,000 keystrokes or more per 8-hr shift are not unusual, and while this level may be considered “productive” in some circles, the resultant health issues and workplace costs quickly offset any benefits
Slower speed 4-finger typists. who have re-invented the ergonomics of keyboards to suite their personal style will never suffer from “finger overuse” syndrome.
Jeremy Rickards PEng. PErgo.
Research Professor and Ergonomics Consultant.
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