Apr 30, 2011

Adventures of a touch typist

A scene from work: My boss comes over to talk to me, and I am typing something, and continue to do so as I look up at him to answer him. He stares in horrified fascination at my fingers accurately producing words on the screen without me looking, and finally can't stand it any more and orders, "Look down! Look down!"

It became a running gag between us.

Me, I can't remember when last I saw another person typing with all ten fingers. Touch typing.

I see a lot of typing, but it's all done with two or four fingers, evenly distributed between two hands.

I did have another boss who typed with four fingers and he was as fast as me with my ten (nine, actually. I don't use my left thumb.).

I know how to touch type because my family advised me to take typing classes in school. I discovered I sucked at typing itself—never getting beyond 30 words per minute if I wanted to avoid mistakes—but I was very good at the non-typing stuff: Adjusting margins, changing ribbons, setting tabulator stops. No hitting space umpteen times to indent text for me!

One reason for not being a good typist is that I have a weak left pinky, the very finger used for all those A's. (And shift and '.) Manual typewriters required a lot of finger strength, and my left pinky didn't have enough. What a godsend electric typewriters were! You'd hardly touch the keys, and they'd type! Oh, my, all the extra, unwanted letters! What a godsend correction tape was! (And I got to be very good with that, too, but that didn't increase my typing speed.)

At some point, I had enough time on my hands to practice and managed to get up to a good 70-80 wpm of error-free typing on an electric typewriter—the speed of a professional typist. And then came computers and I learned to punch numbers on the numeric keypad without looking. (Another boss I had used to watch me tally up dozens of numbers on a large calculator just to see my right hand working so independently of the rest of me.)

And then came Norway. Where I applied for a job and had to take a typing test, and watched the face of my interviewer—as she scanned my test—change from professionally interested to absolutely baffled. Before keyboard standardization, the extra Norwegian vowels æ, ø and å occupied the keys that now have comma, period and dash. So all my periods were æ's. (Those letters are now clustered around L and P on Scandinavian keyboards.)

I got the job. "I was listening, so I know you know how to type," my interviewer, now new supervisor, said. I figure my speed was about 75 wpm.

So what has me typing this blogpost? 35 years of left-pinky-on-a, right-thumb-on-space and a whole lot of other automatic habits—the physical memories in my fingers—means that I also hit Enter or Carriage Return (CR) automatically, too, when I want a new paragraph. (On a manual typewriter, you'd have to return the carriage yourself; "Enter" only moved the paper down a line.)

Which comment fields and blog windows and word processors and e-mail and Google Groups* all acknowledge and use. Tap Enter/paragraph key and get a new line with your cursor at the left of the page.

But not Facebook. They changed their interface about a month ago and made it so that tapping Enter meant posting your comment. A lot of chopped up comments showed up and are still showing up because of this. If you want a new line or a paragraph, you have to use shift-Enter or something.

Which breaks my stride as a touch typist.

And that breaks my concentration.

Not only that, it made me hesitate when wanting to make a new paragraph in blog comments and such, and that's when I got very annoyed with Facebook. I have chosen to no longer participate actively there because I want to keep a 35-year-old habit that works very well everywhere except on Facebook as of April 2011.

Obviously, there are no touch typists working for Facebook.


*) The reason for needing paragraphs was a Facebook discussion group that of course led to long answers rather than short comments. Too bad hardly anyone uses Google Groups or Usenet for that sort of thing, which have the right interface for group discussions: Threaded messages show who replied to what, which also means that there's room for digressions (thread drift) that can be as valuable as the original topic.

12 comments:

Tim VanSant Writes said...

"Look down! Look down!" Made me laugh.

Stupid Facebook. Are they all thumbs over there?

gekko said...

I do the same thing, touch-type and stare at someone when they enter my cube while I continue typing and it has that same effect on them.

Pissed off at FB for changing the I/F so radically and breaking a zillion years of typing tradition.

I now keep my left pinky on the shift key when I reach with my right pinky for the "return" key, can you believe it?

Keera Ann Fox said...

Glad I made you laugh, Tim!

Gekko, I decided I didn't want any new typing habits, hence my ignoring Facebook. I mean, Facebook having such power over typing???

alice said...

My typing sucks lately, not only because of facebook, but also because of switching back and forth between the macbook and netbook -- which have __vastly__ different sized keyboards!

So now half the time, when I'm reaching for the "a," I hit the caps lock instead. :-P Baa!

Keera Ann Fox said...

Yeah, it doesn't take much. One day on a PC, and we Mac users end up hitting CTRL all the time. :-) But to me, that's different from being forced to change actual typing habits.

alice said...

I wish I could give up facebook so easily. It is a time suck, but I need to keep up with friends and family and that's where they are... :-/

Keera Ann Fox said...

The question is, do you need to check in daily, or is weekly frequent enough? I haven't been checking in daily on Facebook for quite some time, and I do assume that if something really serious happens, I'll get a message or mail.

alice said...

I check in daily. I've got dozens of relatives on facebook and I love hearing all the little details from their days. I scroll though quickly, though, and try to get a sense of the gestalt of the day, so that I can move on to other things... my back and shoulder both ache if I spend too much time at the computer!

Keera Ann Fox said...

Alice, I sent you an invite to RockMelt, a browser with features dedicated to Facebook feeds (and as such, a very pleasant experience, IMO).

Norma said...

I too am a touch typist, and hate these midget keyboards on Iphone/Ipod.

Elizabeth said...

Hej Keera,

Your story brought back my memories about pinky. My teacher said: You are to young to learn to type since you haven't a boyfriend yet with whom you walk pinky. His theory was that as soon as that happens the muscles in your pink become stronger and therefore typing on a mechanical machine easier.

Nowadays there is no problem anymore except when I have to type the special danish letters.

Thanks for your story.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Hei, Elizabeth, og velkommen! Ah, yes, back in the day when teachers would pass on old wives' tales to the kids. :-) I wonder if young lovers still link pinkies. Can't remember when I saw it last.