Saturday, September 22, 2012

Changing keys

In a recent column, John Dvorak writes, of the caps lock key, "This is a key that should be nowhere near any of the normal keys because typists often ACCIDENTALLY HIT IT AND THE NEXT THING THEY KNOW, THEY ARE SCREAMING."

I've heard other calls to demote or do away with caps lock. In the name of all that's holy, no.

Thing is, all but the most accurate typists accidentally hit wrong keys all the time, and not just caps lock. This is in the nature of typing. But good typists realize right away that they have accidentally hit caps lock, because their eyes are where they're supposed to be, on the screen, not the keyboard. Dvorak is describing a scenario that would occur only if the typist were looking at the keyboard. And the typist shouldn't be doing that.

It doesn't make sense to eliminate a key just because someone might accidentally hit it, especially a useful one like caps lock. Under most circumstances, writing in all caps is definitely a no-no, but when it comes to acronyms -- SMERSH, say -- caps lock is the only way to type in all caps and keep all the fingers on the home row, where they belong.

Dvorak is identifying a problem that's less about a particular key and more about a nation of untrained typists. How much more productive would our economy be if everyone who uses a computer learned to touch type properly? Seriously. I learned to touch type from a shareware computer program in 1993. It took about two weeks, and it was excruciating. Then it was over.