Monday, August 16, 2010

talking with my fingers

Since the age of 16 my fingers have known the QWERTY keyboard and seem to use it without direct intervention from my brain. When I think about this I remember round about the same age my father asking me when I was practicing one of the showier pieces of piano music, "How do you know where the keys are when you don't look at them?" I said, "I just know." And I just know where the letters are on a QWERTY keyboard. I have probably typed an average of 4 hours a day since I was 16. A lot of typing.
I know moves have been afoot for a long time to replace the seeming nonsense of this arrangement which was designed in 1874 to alleviate the frequent pile up of stuck keys in the early typewriters when people began to be able to type faster than the old typewriter mechanism could respond. No problem of that today with computer keyboards.

In yesterday's NYTimes magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan wrote: "For 136 years...typing in English meant certain neurological associations. Words exist in our minds and on our tongues, but they also live in our hands and fingers. ...Who knows what qwerty has done to the language -- even to modes of thought -- by attaching meaning to certain constellations?" This question is fraught with implications ... do I think a certain way because my fingers type "the, and, for, what, where, how, who" and I don't know how many other words as one impulse, something that exists my fingers as spontaneously as the words exit my mounth?

The study of the mind has always interested me. This is another question among many, many that cross my mind often. Now, says Ms. Heffernan, keyboards are in flux, they are even in flux as they are being used and can reconfigure themselves without being told to do so by the user -- it's scary stuff to me. At my age, I am very set in my ways, I don't want to change. I recognize qwerty as a tool, only a tool but one that is an extension of my very self as Van Gogh's brushes and palette knives were an extension of his very being. My handwriting has become almost as deformed as Van Gogh's ear became. What a conundrum to contemplate.


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