Touch Typing: A Dying Art

So recently I had an unfortunate situation become a pretty fortunate one, whereby I aquired a new MacBook Pro. This generation is the latest update to Apple’s MacBook Pro line up and among its features is the new second-generation butterfly mechanism keyboard [first-gen featured on the 2016 12″ MacBook]. Apple redesigned their keyboard that is now “meticulously refind for greater comfort and responsiveness” – classic Johny Ive language. Essentially the keys are larger and more stable, which presents a different touch and feel for the user as there is minimal travel [movement up, down or around each key].

I first tried the new butterfly mechanism on the MacBook keyboard when it released around April 2016, and I was not too impressed. This next-gen keyboard is much improved, and having spent around only one week using it, I can confidently say that I really love it. As a touch typist, my fingers move around the keyboard in a blazing fashion with incredible accuracy in a way that I have not experienced on any computer before, Apple or otherwise. Admittedly, the diference initially increases your aware of how you are typing, simply because it isn’t something you are used to with the feel and sound, or even the proprioceptive feedback. The more I have typed the more I really appreciate the upgrade.

I mentioned this feature to a few friends and my family too, and where possible, invited them to try typing on my MacBook. It dawned on me that actually, very few people do, and are capable of, touch typing. I get the feeling that people think touch typing is typing as fast as you can, but oh no. Far from it. Typing fast is the result of being able to touch type, but typing fast is not touch typing. Touch typing is actually the ability to type without the sense of sight to find the keys, locating keys based on muscle memory using eight fingers in a horizontal row along the middle of the keyboard – known as the home keys – of which you can locate where the index fingers sit on the keyboard because of the small bumps on the letters of F and J. They appear on all keyboards. Honestly. Go check!

Nowadays, keyboards are layed out in a QWERTY fashion (top row letters from left to right – seen on computers designed for English speaking users), however they once appeared in alphabetical order with a ABCDE starting in the top left. This order lead typists to become jammed up due to the frequency of letters in sequence sitting too close to each other, and therefore the QWERTY was designed to oppose this. It kept the letters apart to engage with different areas of the keyboard in order to maximise the speed of typing by improving the distribution of letters. Individual fingers were then assigned to a particular set of keys in order to type quickly on this style of keyboard. This was all done in the late 1880’s, which I find amazing. Given that QWERTY keyboards have been around for so long, I do not know many people that can touch type, and it very much seems to be a lost art.

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‘ASDF’ and ‘JKL;’ above are circled to highlight where your left and right hands/fingers sit on the home row, and where that particular finger then moves across the keyboard for different keys.

For me, learning to touch type came from two directions. My family can touch type and my parents had a keyboard game/teacher product that taught the user how to do so, and I do remember playing with this quite a bit – insisted that I do so by Mum (thanks Mum!). I also learnt in IT lessons at school. There was this program I was using in Year 7 that took you through the process of where to hold your fingers on the keys, what key was typed by what finger, and this program slowly built you up to full use. Interestingly, albeit vague, I do not remember many of my friends being too bothered by this. I found learning it fascinating though, and it has really paid its dues over my career of touch typing when it comes to essay writing, writing documents or even typing formulas at work.

Anyway, I decided to test how quickly I could actually type on this new keyboard [oh come on, indulge me]. I took the test on Typingtest.com. You have one minute to type out as many of the characters and words shown on the screen. Errors are counted too, so you don’t want to make mistakes! To my own surprise I scored a tidy 90 words per minute, making 1 error, therefore given a adjusted score of 89 wpm. This put me into the Pro category [😎], with the average touch typist proudcing 58 wpm and the average typist producing 36 wpm.

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My touchtyping.com results.

Writing my blog is always enjoyable for me, and the ability to facilitate my thoughts and just type away as instantly as they come to mind is so essential for me to keep some kind of flow. It makes things easy. I am very lucky to have learnt and kept such a skill that is easily overlooked. Can you touch type yourself? It would be great to know who else is capable of this seemingly-unique asset. If you can’t, try and give it a go – it’ll be worth learning I am sure of it.

Take the test and let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below, that would be cool to hear.

One Comment

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  1. I cannot touch-type without looking at the keys. I believe the qwerty keyboard has been a great idea for PC’s but, now we have smartphones and this same layout is a fail for fast and reliable texting. hopefully the new keyboard design I am working on will work much better for our portable electronic devices.

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