The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
If you don’t recognize that sentence, it’s a typing exercise. The nine words contain all the letters in the alphabet, which makes it a useful way to stay in touch with your keyboard, so to speak. I practice the sentence periodically so that my abysmal typing skills don’t deteriorate any faster.
Sometimes, like now, I type it when I’m drawing a creative blank. It’s like an artist doodling while waiting for inspiration. Tonight, it got me thinking about old, established ways of doing things that still have some currency, and likely will have for a long time.
Any of us who learned to type in the traditional method do it the same way: four fingers on each side of the G and H, thumbs over the space bar, looking at the same array of letters no matter what device we are using. We reach keys beyond the designated “home row” with specific fingers. Many of those outlying function keys were added later, notably on computer keyboards. “Delete” was not possible on an old manual typewriter, though that would have been convenient.
Pretty much every English-language word-processing device still uses the so-called QWERTY keyboard, which originated in the 1870s. It endures for a reason: changing it would be chaotic. We’d be retrofitting and retraining for decades.
There was a time when the world was deciding which standardized keyboard to use and other options competed, like when there was still a question about whether alternating current or direct current would prevail in common electricity usage.
So, we could have been using an entirely different system all these years. The final QWERTY keyboard layout evolved for mechanical and functional reasons. For the rest of us, the letter arrangement is just a nonsensical oddity that has to be accepted. I’m a mediocre typist and would be with any keyboard. It can get messy, and typos are a bane in my business.
I’m not sure typing is even taught any more as part of a regular curriculum. When I was in high school, my mom — who worked in the main office of the school district and was familiar with all clerical skills including Gregg shorthand — insisted that I take a typing class before I could get my driver’s license. I grumbled and it put a dent in my GPA, but it was a good call on her part. It prepared me for college and for the career I’ve pursued for more than 40 years.
After all this time, my typing skills haven’t improved. On a good day, I could maybe bang out 40 words per minute without (too many) mistakes. But the muscle memory that was ingrained all those years ago is intact, and I can touch-type without having to think about it, which is the point.
Yet it’s not always transferable. Look at your cell phone, laptop or iPad. It’s the same keyboard, and it doesn’t improve with shrinkage. There’s no way to adapt traditional touch typing to a tiny screen. Most people I watch texting seem to be “thumbers.” I’m not. I use my right index finger. While I still know where the letters are, one-finger typing is clumsy and often wildly inaccurate, which throws my autocorrect into a frenzy trying to interpret what I mean — often incorrectly, with amusing or embarrassing results. That’s one reason why, IMHO, shortcuts are so popular in texts and emails.
Voice recognition has supplanted typing for many folks, but AI hasn’t entirely figured out how to convert spoken words to written language with 100% precision. I’ve received some baffling, nearly unintelligible notes that I suspect originated with the sender’s voice.
Not everything lasts. Gone are buggy whips, BETA format and eight-track tapes. Still, some things are just settled. It’s AC, not DC. We drive on the right side of the road. Analog clocks and watches will never be entirely supplanted by digital. Pencils are better than pens for some tasks. It would be difficult to improve on the basic flathead screwdriver. Billions of people use QWERTY. That’s not going to change any time soon.
As we age, many of us develop irrational fears about losing skills or knowledge related to literacy. I sometimes worry that I will forget how to type, or that one day I will look at a printed page and have no idea what the characters represent. Maybe the consistency of QWERTY will help delay that day.