Why We Should Stick To Qwerty

Computer Science 10

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The Qwerty keyboard - named Qwerty because the letters q, w, e, r, t, y are

arranged next to each other - has been the universal standard since the

beginning of the 1890s. Since then, there have been many proposals by other

keyboard makers to market products that would enable users to type faster.

Other proposals put the most frequently used letters - dhiatensor - in the

middle row.i Although these keyboards enable users to type far faster than the

qwerty keyboard, they are rarely sold. There are several reasons for this.

First, there is no need for the regular users to type any faster than at the

current speed. Second, for the people whose job require fast typing, the new

keyboards can lead to bigger health problems that develop from continuous typing.

Third, and most importantly, standardization has led the qwerty keyboards to

firmly hold the position as the keyboard.

There are major differences between the two types of keyboard users; the regular

users and the other typists. The regular users are people who uses the keyboard

for word processing, e-mailing, and internet; there is not much of a need for

them to type extremely fast. They do not type mechanically but rather based on

their thought, and thinking takes time. In other words, faster keyboards are

irrelevant for them because they are not continuously typing. They need to

think what they are going to write, one sentence one after another.

On the other hand, the typists whose job is simply to type, do so continuously.

They also happen to be the major victims of repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) which

is in large part caused by continuously stroking the keyboards. In an article

about RSI, Huff explains the changes that the companies are undergoing to become

more productive: Many work practices are changing with automation to increase

productivity. These include fewer staff, heavier workloads, more task

specialization, faster pacing of work, fewer rest breaks, more overtime, more

shift work and nonstandard hours, and more piece work and bonus systems. These

work practices can entail very prolonged rapid or forceful repetitive motions

leading to fatigue and overuse of muscles.ii

Because RSI is a major problem to the typists, it would be a suicidal move for

them to adopt faster typable keyboards. More of them will develop RSI. As for

the companies that hire these typists, not only will the frequency of RSI

development increase, the amount of money that the companies have to compensate

to the employees who develop RSI will also increase. The fact that the qwerty

keyboard is less efficient presents typists from getting more serious health


Finally, the role of standardization greatly influences where the qwerty stand

in the keyboard market. Once the qwerty was standardized, no other types of

keyboards could enter into competition regardless of how much more efficient

they were. That is because a standardized layout enables users to have to know

just one kind of layout. Keyboard layout is like different languages. If there

are different languages being spoken when people are trying to communicate with

each other, it becomes very difficult to understand. The communication would be

very inefficient. What if a new keyboard becomes standardized? Navy studies in

the 1940s showed that the change from qwerty to a more efficient keyboard would

pay for itself within 10 days.iii However, this study shows the result from the

corporation's view. Although corporations will certainly be able to make more

money out of same amount of time by adopting the new keyboard, there are other

factors that are not taken into account - human cost. If the new, more

efficient keyboards are to be standardized, there would be enormous spending on

reeducation, relearning, repurchasing, and replacement. The cost of doing this

would be enormous.

In short, the qwerty keyboard is efficient enough for people to use. It's fast

enough for regular users, and it's slow enough for typists to avoid further

health problems. And, attempt to standardize a new keyboard would be extremely

difficult and expensive. Yet, people might not even have to concern themselves

with the keyboards anymore soon. The advancement of technology keeps bringing

wonders to the world. In near future, voice recognition programs using

microphones, might replace keyboards. Then, RTI - Repetitive Talking Injury -

might be a big issue. Who knows? i Huff, C., "Putting technology in its place"

in Social Issues in Computing, Huff, C. and Finholt T. (Eds), McGraw Hill. 1994,

pp. 2. ii Huff, C., "Computing and your health" in Social Issues in Computing,

Huff, C. and Finholt T. (Eds), McGraw Hill. 1994, pp. 103-104. iii Huff, C.,

"Putting technology in its place" in Social Issues in Computing, Huff, C. and

Finholt T. (Eds), McGraw Hill. 1994, pp. 3.