Why I Quit the Qwerty Keyboard
Nowadays, computers are extremely efficient and scientific. We have quantum computers, supercomputers, desktop computers, laptop computers, and computers that fit in the palm of our hand. New audio standards are continually improving fidelity, and new video standards are constantly outdoing previous definitions of pixel density. However, computer keyboards have not changed since the 1870s. Despite hundreds of better replacements, the outdated QWERTY keyboard remains standard.
Here's why I switched keyboards, and how I did it.
A Quick History of QWERTY
Back when people used typewriters, every manufacturing company had a different keyboard layout. Secretaries had to learn a different configuration every time they switched companies or machines. Thus, there was a lot of pressure for a common standard to be adopted. At the time, most keyboards placed all of the letter keys in alphabetical order, which made sense. This resulted in some of the most heavily-used keys sitting next to each other. Because typewriters were mechanical, however, this often caused the keys to stick. The QWERTY format was eventually adopted because it spread the most-used keys farthest apart (and thus prevented sticky keys). Here's a useful video that elaborates:
The Benefits of Dvorak
Almost as soon as QWERTY became widespread, a number of different keyboard layouts were proposed. No one took these seriously, however, until electronic keyboards arrived with the advent of the computer. Now, there was no danger of "sticky" keys. The Dvorak keyboard was proposed as a more ergonomic, efficient, and logical alternative to the QWERTY format. Here's what Dvorak does:
1. More Ergonomic: All of the most-used letters are placed in the center row. This reduces the distance a typist's hands must move, thus reducing finger stress.
2. More Efficient: Vowels are placed on the left, while the most-used consonants are placed on the right. Since most English words alternate between vowels and consonants, this allows typists to increase their speed.
3. More Logical: Many common English letter combinations have been build-in to the keyboard layout. For example, "th" and "sh" are common, and this format places those letters so that they can be easily typed in a strumming motion with the right hand (see image below).
In short, Dvorak is definitely a better keyboard layout for new typists, because it is easier to learn and master. Since most computers support the Dvorak keyboard layout (without the need to physically switch keyboards), there really is no need to learn QWERTY.
How Hard Is it to Switch?
When I decided to learn the Dvorak keyboard layount, I set myself some ground rules:
First, I wanted to touch-type Dvorak, not just hunt-and-peck. This would make it harder to learn at first, because I could not allow myself to look at the keyboard while I was typing. In the long-term, however, I would be much faster as a result. To accomplish this objective, I printed out the diagram above and placed it nearby. I looked at the diagram, not the keyboard or my fingers.
Secondly, I wanted to learn as quickly as possible. This meant that I would need to completely avoid QWERTY for about a month. I strategically started this transition right before a major writing assignment was due, so that I would have a lot of practice. Even though my learning curve was steep, and my progress was painfully slow, I mastered the Dvorak keyboard faster than I thought possible. I was proficient within about three weeks.
Am I Happy I Switched?
Yes, I am glad I learned the Dvorak keyboard, but not because it made me faster or more productive. Instead, the experience of learning a completely new keyboard trained my mind to be open to new experiences. Much like learning new languages helps your brain stay healthy, learning Dvorak has helped me learn how to learn.
The #1 benefit of learning Dvorak is improved ergonomics, since the less commonly-used letters and symbols are placed in less easily-reached keys on the keyboard. However, this only helps the fingers, not the wrists and shoulders. My previous keyboard-and-mouse setup, as seen below, was both boring and unhealthy.
In order to further improve ergonomics, I decided to take my keyboard conversion a step further and switch away from a traditional keyboard and move to Dygma Raise Ergonomic Split Keyboard. Below, you will find my current keyboard layout.
Then, I went a step further with a tenting kit to help my wrists!