Enough urban legends about QWERTY

Over the past few years there has been much on and off talk about the origins of the QWERTY keyboard. Here is a Google Trends plot showing the “interest” (based on search volume?) of the term qwerty vs dvorak.  Screenshot from 2016-02-14 21:51:47 I am not sure why Google believe that internet users were suddenly interested in this topic for one day in August 2010 after zero search traffic for half a decade. But the key point is, news headlines (and sometimes “tidbits” at a dinner conversation) now and again keep reminding us of some fables about the much maligned keyboard layout. Some of the best anecdotes are
* Bars collided and jammed together in early typewriters, so qwerty designer Christopher Sholes arranged the most common letters in the worst possible locations to slow down typists.

  • The qwerty keyboard arose from telegraph operators who used morse code (a Japanese study looks into the whole prehistory) and found it to be the best arrangement, in comparison to earlier keyboards based on alphabetical order.

  • Salespeople pushed for qwerty because they could type the word T-Y-P-E-W-R-I-T-E-R without having to cross their fingers over one another (a key selling point, of course, because typewriter is a very common English word and our tools need to be specially optimized to type it …)

  • The Illuminati popularized qwerty, in collaboration with the CIA, to slow down Russian spies infiltrating NASA during in the Space Race. Regardless of the “true” history (which probably is not that interesting) the worst part about all this coverage is the portrayal of qwerty as an historic tragedy which we are now doomed to suffer with forever. Some studies look into the

efficacy of keyboard layout and suggest that the current design is not optimal. College students who are experts with dvorak smirk at their classmates with pride for their superior typing abilities. It is time to put an end to all this boring droll. So what if we type 3 fewer words per minute? Let us eliminate this great inefficiency for once and for all, and watch as labor productivity, youth employment, and gender equality rise to unprecedented levels, while crime rates, the GINI coefficient and CO2 emissions plummet. The next time Google News suggest an article about qwerty I am changing news sources.

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