Qwerty on trial

August 9th, 2010

Thanks to an email from a scientist friend, I have been alerted to the news that BBC Radio Four is to put the Qwerty keyboard on trial on Wednesday morning at 9 AM. The flier tells me:

All rise for Judge Stephen Fry, in whose court the Qwerty keyboard stands trial.

The Qwerty keyboard was invented in the 1870′s by Christopher Scholes, because of the need to slow typists down. Because the mechanical typewriters of the time caused fast typists to stop, when the adjacent keys got stuck. Qwery continued to dominate, although the problem of the sticking keys was solved and the invention of the electric typewriter in the 1930′s removed it entirely.

Nevertheless the English speaking world continued to use Qwerty, although a much better keyboard layout had been invented by an American management scientist, August Dvorak, in the early 1930′s. You can read this history in five minutes on my other web site: www.typingbytouch.com.

Tomorrow I am on the road from Toulouse to La Rochelle, so I am not even sure whether I will be able to catch the BBC radio programme. And I don’t know whether I will agree with Fry’s verdict.

But I am sure that the issue is in the public interest, although the series is entitled ‘Fry’s English Delights’, which suggests it is dumbing down unworthy of the taxpayer’s money.

In the computer age there is no problem with sticking keys.

But Qwerty rules.

And so does two finger typing, which is used also on mobile phones.

But on the Ipad, you can touch type.

And it does not take scientific research to prove, that if we use eight fingers, we are likely to do better, than if we use two.

So learning touch typing is sensible. But learning Qwerty takes three times as long as learning Dvorak.

Will Fry’s programme delight us with this knowledge.

We will find out on the night.

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