On Touch Typing

If I’d have to choose one acquired skill that made the largest difference in my life, touch typing would be the top contender. I think it’s easy to underestimate and no, it’s not about the speed.

I learned touch typing relatively early in my life during high school. We started with a very…specific teacher1, but since I had already been a computer worm2 at home, I saw the value of learning it. The whole class will—as we were all set for a life full of physical pain caused by watching other people. Type. Letter. By. Letter. Slowly.

The speed is easy to get used to. It’s the reason why I’ve been a very late entrant to the smartphone world: a lot of what people enjoyed doing on the go was so painfully slow to me that I’d rather read and do it in bulk at a desk. It was only later when I saw the appeal: experienced screen typer can be on par with the “normal” keyboard writer with additional hints from the onscreen keyboard. It probably also removes the cognitive switch as the keyboard is directly in the focused view, there is no need to look back and forth.

I don’t think it’s the speed that’s crucial per se, but the cognitive load removal. It’s very similar to driving: with proficiency, the load of the task frees your ability to do other things. For writing, this is crucial since the goal is seldom the writing itself: it’s articulating thoughts, sharing emotions, augmenting thinking. It’s probably possible to do without touch typing itself, but when observing other people write I can often see in their face the context switch the writer is going through. This interrupts the task immersion, the Holy Grail of productivity.

I strongly recommend giving it a try. I am not a very fast writer myself3 and I think the threshold for a significant benefit starts pretty low.

The life of a modern internet dweller is the life of a writer. “You are what you write4”. Messages, emails, statuses—think how many texts you produce per day. Touch typing is one of the best ways to clear your mind to improve them.

I accidentally discovered this when experimenting with different keyboards5 and keyboard layouts6. During the learning period, the cognitive load was back and it was frustratingly annoying. I can’t really imagine going back.

Thanks to Daria Grudzien for proofreading and feedback

  1. Few people dropped out of the class after half a year, multiple others were well on their way to get stomach ulcers. I think the best summary of his personality was when he spaced out in front of the class that was typing furiously and said “And one day, we’ll redo this class the way it should be…we’ll paint it black”. ↩︎

  2. I remember being mocked when I mentioned somewhere that I spent a shocking amount of three or four hours a day in front of the screen. ↩︎

  3. Between 50-60 wpm, depending on the equipment and nail clipping status. ↩︎

  4. Or originally, “to see the writing is to see the author” (见文如见人). ↩︎

  5. I am sorry to report that after spending few thousand dollars, it’s mostly not worth it. Some of the hyper expensive super ergonomic ones made me experience RSI symptoms for the first time in my life. Hand strain wise, the only thing that seems to make a difference to me is putting return and backspace keys in the middle to help the overloaded right hand. Learning to operate mouse and trackpad with left hand helped as well. ↩︎

  6. I am native with regards to switching between English and Czech layout. Colemak is nice for text writing but doesn’t work well for programming given the placement of special characters. Dvorak fares a bit better. I’d like the mention that it’s not the different letter position for writing that’s hard, it’s the keyboard shortcuts. Those are somehow not tied to the letters one is pressing, but the intent is directly wired to the muscle memory. ↩︎

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