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How Long Will we Keep Typing?

Posted in Computing, Technology

I’ve been playing through an old PC game – The Typing of the Dead: Overkill. It takes one of the campiest light-gun shooters (featuring zombies), and replaces shooting with the Wii-mote with typing out phrases on-screen, where each successful completion results in a zombie kill. It’s fairly mindless fun, doubled as a typing exercise.

It reminded me of my typing escapades as a child. The old computer lab in elementary school had ancient Commodore Amigas, and I distinctly remember Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing as one of the programs the school used to teach the kids. Most of my eventual typing fluency, though, came from typing out high school/college essays and gradually coding.

I suspect that my generation – the so-called millennials – has had the most opportunity to learn and subsequently get value out of typing. Earlier generations treated touch typing as a specialized skill for data entry; most work did not rely on computers as much they do currently, and even then PCs were only popularized in the workplace with functional GUIs largely driven by mice. Executives dictated their memos to their secretaries, who were the ones trained to maximize their WPM.

In the current environment of smartphones and tiny virtual keyboards1, plus the advent of voice-to-text technology a la Siri and Contana and Google Now, there’s less of a pressing need to type to communicate with or through a computing device. Ol’ physical keyboard typing is still the most precise form of input, but that precision is becoming less crucial with smarter applications and friendlier user interfaces. In fact, the trend for this year has been for device manufacturers to reattach physical keyboards to touchscreens as tacit admission that typing out emails is still most efficient with dedicated hardware.

We haven’t cracked the keyboard-less interface quite yet, but all signs point to its deprecation in the long run. The keyboard’s form factor make it useful only to computing devices on flat surfaces, but hardware miniaturization will make fitting keyboards increasingly more difficult. Meanwhile, as smartphones continue their trend to become the sole computing device, the act of typing itself will become quaint, and the next generation of kids may not need to learn how to type2.

We have probably reached peak typing, and there’s likely a future where typing reverts into a specialized skill.

  1. Though the trend of tiny keyboard tapping really came about with the Blackberry…

  2. A similar fate is befalling cursive handwriting instruction in classrooms.