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The QWERTY keyboard - Essay Example

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A quintessentially American invention, the QWERTY design demonstrates one of the key principles of human development: the triumph of culture over logic and the survival of a tradition which may not be the fittest for purpose, but certainly wins the prize for durability under pressure. The initial design of the typewriter keyboard was motivated by an intention to slow down the writing process, for technical reasons due to the tendency of the metal keys to stick if they were moved too fast (Baron 27). Through trial and error, early type writer inventor Christopher Latham Sholes from Milwaukee came up with the mechanically optimal arrangement of characters: in four rows, all in upper case (David 333). A further refinement was added by production partner Remington in the form of a letter combination which allowed the word “TYPEWRITER” to be formed using only the top row of characters. (David 27). So it was that the combined demands of technology limitations and sales ambition led to the final QWERTY format. As is the way of things in the modern world, technology moved on rather rapidly, and competitors soon appeared on the horizon, eager to take the ideas that had gone before and transform them into something better and cheaper than existing models. The so-called “Ideal” keyboard appeared in the 1870s, using the sequence DHIATENSOR in the top row, based on a calculation of the frequency of letter use in the English language: these ten letters were sufficient to produce over 70 per cent of words in English (David 334). Other ideas which have emerged since then include the use of an arrangement based on alphabetical order and the famous Dvorak layout which places the most common consonants in the central right hand position and the vowels on the left. The aim of this distribution is to shorten the distance between the most common letters, and encourage left and right hands to work in sequence (Bridger 380) with the result that typing on this keyboard layout becomes both faster and more accurate than the original QWERTY arrangement. The Dvorak arrangement (see figure 1 below) was named after its creator Dr August Dvorak, and the patent was filed in 1936, at a time when industrial factory-style systems were common, and typing pools were set up as a way of speeding up business communications. Fig. 1 QWERTY and Dvorak keyboards compared. Source: Bridger, p. 381. On the face of it, these alternative layouts look like eminently sensible improvements based on a desire to better match the machine layout to the natural attributes of the human hands and mind. In practice, however, these later layouts have been rejected by mainstream typewriter and later also computer production in favour of the early QWERTY version. This raises the question why the older model has stuck, and improvements have been rejected. The answer comes down to a combination of different factors. Some of these are due to the momentum that the QWERTY layout gained in the critical years of atomization in the United States. As companies were set up they designed integrated systems which fed into each other, so that for example sales, processing of orders and invoicing were conducted by letter and telephone, and instead of handwritten ledgers, typewritten documents were used, and then retained in filing systems. People were appointed to undertake these tasks, equipment was bought, training was provided and everyone ...Show more


The QWERTY keyboard The strange word QWERTY, with its capitalization of all the letters and absence of a letter “U” after the letter “Q”, defies the rules of English orthography and yet has become the marker of one of the most ubiquitous conventions of modern writing: the keyboard…
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