Typing Technology

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The first typewriter I ever used looked a lot like this one.
(photo source)

Technology is awesome – but sometimes no matter how hard we try to make things easier, we end up just trading in one set of problems for another.

One example is the evolution of typing. Have you ever typed on a manual, mechanical typewriter? We had an old one when I was growing up which looked very similar to the one in the photo. I really enjoyed plunking away on it, but I never did get very good at it. (It’s much harder to correct your mistakes on a manual machine!)  I was fascinated by the intricate system of hinges, levers and springs which resulted in the rapid stamping of the paper with the appropriate letter. This machine was quicker than writing by hand, but required deliberate and forceful striking of the keys. If you didn’t press hard enough you would get a poor quality letter, and if you tried to go too fast, the mechanical arms wouldn’t have time to spring back resulting in a log-jam tangle of typebars.

Typing in those days was a task that involved much more than finger dexterity – it used the wrist, hand and elbow to produce the required motions. It was actually hard work, and it couldn’t be done for hours on end without significant pain and fatigue. Our transition into modern computer keyboards have greatly minimized the force and gross movement required to type and we can reach much higher typing speeds than was ever possible in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, sometimes the tiny rapidly repeated movements cause more damage than larger, slower ones.

There are more reported cases of repetitive strain injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) than ever before. Does this have to do with the way we type? Is it just because more people are typing more often? Is it because we are complaining about pain more often than previous generations did? All I know is that that our rapid-fire typing for prolonged periods of time has the potential to create injury, and the only reason we can type as often and as fast as we do with so little movement is because of the technology we have created. I think we may have just traded one type (pun intended) of injury for another.

So… type slower, take breaks, stretch, eat well, get exercise, go to a chiropractor… all that good stuff!

Oh, and if you have never typed on a manual typewriter from the 60’s, I highly recommend you find a way to try it. There is something magical and satisfying about that tactile experience.
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