Woke up to find my hair had all miraculously grown back? No.
Finally tracked down Halle Berry’s home address? Nope. (Dammit.)
Learned how to touch-type again? Oh yes.
I used to be the worst typist in the entire world. Just-hatched tadpoles could type better than me. But times change. I finally resigned myself to it being the 20th century and having to, as it were, get with the programme back in 1996 and invested in a teaching programme keyboard. And it was great. I’ve been happily typing with eight fingers and two thumbs (and without having to look at the keyboard) for nearly 20 years now. And I’m reasonably fast, although no speed-typing records are under threat from me.
But I’m still not quick enough and I do occasionally feel a bit tired when I've been writing for a while. I was talking to a friend just this morning and she told me how her career as a P.A. came to a shuddering end when repetitive strain injury (RSI) from years of touch-typing meant that her days as a keyboard queen were over. What an incredible shame.
When I’m at work and writing in a flow state, it’s frustrating to not be able to put ideas and ways of phrasing things down on pixels as quickly as they come to me. You're probably the same, no matter how fast you currently type. So what to do?
The Dvorak keyboard will not just add zip to your typing, it'll look after your tendons, too.
But first things first. The keyboard the huge majority of us use to type on is, of course, the Qwerty keyboard. It was invented in the mid-19th century in America and designed to physically separate keys that were often used together in combinations. Why? To prevent letter typebars jamming stuck to one another. So in one way it was a time-saver. By reducing the need to fiddle around with jammed typebars, you had more time to type (and less inky fingers, most likely).
This is the Qwerty keyboard layout:
In the age of electronic keyboards, however, this design is not relevant. You no longer have the problem of jamming to contend with, so no time saving there. What’s more, the physical separation of commonly used keys means that your fingers have to work hard and cover a lot more ground than they should -- hence my friend's RSI and retirement from being a P.A.
The set-up of the keys is not designed either for speed or the ergonomic wellbeing of your fingers, so RSI is a common problem -- either medically diagnosed or just dismissed as "I’m feeling a bit tired today".
These are two of the issues educational psychologist August Dvorak addressed in the 1930s when he came up with the "Dvorak Simplified Keyboard" layout. He's got the same surname as the composer (duh-vor-jhakk), but a different pronunciation (deh-vo-rack).
Here’s what it looks like:
Forget how it looks; does it work?
You bet. The world’s fastest typist uses Dvorak and has been measured at a -- frankly -- unbelievable 212 words per minute. I'm not sure I can even think 212 words per minute! But if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.
How To Get The Dvorak Keyboard
First of all, some good news: you don’t have to buy any new software; everything you need is already set up on your computer’s operating system.
- Go to this page and you’ll be able to set your computer to type using Dvorak in, as it says in the title, just 30 seconds.
- Look at this image to familiarise yourself with the different placement of the keys.
And that’s it! You’re all set. It'll feel a bit strange at the beginning, especially if you look down at the keyboard as you type. Your finger will be pressing on "s", but on the screen you'll see an "o". Don't worry about it. Not looking at your fingers as you type will help.
Not enough? Need just a bit more. Okayyyyy... Pretty demanding today, aren't we? All right, why not.
Here are two tutorial sites that will make it easy to learn how to touch-type with Dvorak:
- This website is very easy and lets you go at your own pace.
- The Power Typing page, on the other hand, times you and gives actual ratings and scores on how you’ve done. It’s fantastic. I highly recommend it.
It will be difficult at first, don’t get me wrong. You’ll be slower than you were… for a while. But once muscle memory gets used to Dvorak, you’ll be typing faster than ever before and with less effort.
STILL need some more? Still? Really?
Right, one more thing and that's your lot. Have a look at this site to get an idea of the effort you’ll be saving by switching from Qwerty to Dvorak. It’s worth it.
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