We now accept that voice activated computers have come of age. There are many applications of voice input that are used by people wishing to avoid using their keyboards. We read about direct brain control of the computer interface and have seen convincing demos of this in action as a prosthetic assist and as research effort. Soon that too will seem commonplace.
The profusion of technologies that offer novel ways for people to enter information into their computers will continue to amaze us. But will the keyboard ever disappear? I strongly doubt it.
Why would we not want to abandon a mechanical kluge, that is noisy, prone to repetitive stress injuries, ergonomically ridiculous in it’s qwerty modality, and slow? Even so, we writers will hang onto our keyboards with our aching fingers even as technical wizards and early adopters call us luddites.
We like our keyboards for the same reasons that we like musical instruments. They serve nearly identical purposes. Human language has deep roots. Early primate language was very likely a mixture of gesture and musical vocalizations. Imagine a lot of hand and finger waving with sounds that are part singing and part muttered intonations. Other species and evolutionary branches are much the same using body position, vibration, arching, puffing, color, and ritualized ‘dance’.
Penmanship and cursive writing served us well and fulfilled some of the same purposes for hundreds of years, just look at the fancy almost carved letter work in a handwritten document from the past several centuries. The visual text supported and illustrated the meaning of the text.
Almost every developed society has it’s own unique version of sign language for the deaf. These expressive languages are rich in meaning, art, and subtlety—and they are gesture languages. They are languages of the body, the arms, the hands and fingers, the face, eyes and mouth.
What does this collection of apparently unrelated examples tell us about keyboards? That they are a continuation of hand gestures and signing, they are in a way related to music and music making. When we type many of us ‘run’ a parallel soundtrack of the written language in our mind’s-ear as it appears on the screen. Nobody else can hear it, but it must sound right to us. This is an integral part of the creative process for writers like myself.
Is there much difference between my Mac Book Pro laptop keyboard and a pianist’s keyboard? My keyboard holds many aesthetic pleasures for me. It has a satisfying ‘feel’ that is rich in kinesthetic feedback to my fingers and hands. It is klicky and tub-thumpy. It makes satisfying sounds for my ears to use in judging if keys have been properly struck. It is warm to the touch and the keys are softly sculpted to cradle my fingertips. I usually don’t like other keyboards. Most importantly, when I use my keyboard in a writing project, I feel free. The freedom of expression that the keyboard offers to a trained touch-typist is a great pleasure. It is a freedom machine for the mind. There it is— what a good keyboard offers is pleasure in creating a musical and meaningful text. You can’t take that away from me.