Start the Revolution Without Me

Thursday, October 15th, ©2009 Marcus Brooks

A somewhat radical member of the Yahoo! altkeyboards group recently posted a link to this article: Congress to pressure Obama to force mandatory switch to Dvorak. Speaking as a long-time Dvorak advocate, I oppose any such mandate!

Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

For those who don’t know, “Dvorak” refers to a simplified keyboard layout proposed in the 1930’s by Dr. August Dvorak and his colleagues. It requires far less finger motion to type on the Dvorak layout than on the usual QWERTY pattern.

I have used the Dvorak layout for many years, after switching from QWERTY, and I can attest to Dvorak’s comfort and efficiency. I am confident a national switch to Dvorak would save our citizens a great deal of wasted time, money, and pain.

But trying to force a mandatory switch will doom the effort, and possibly make things harder for those who want to use Dvorak. If the government needs to be involved at all, it should concentrate on making sure the Dvorak option is always available, not on mandating its use.

All modern computers include the Dvorak keyboard layout as a preference or control panel option (along with national language settings). But a few schools and businesses block access to this setting. It would be beneficial for government to mandate access to the setting for anyone who wants to use it. This would remove the most valid objection to teaching Dvorak to students: that they might someday be forced to use QWERTY anyway.

It also makes sense to require educators to at least introduce the Dvorak option to typing students. If they know Dvorak will always be available, children and new typists can choose to learn Dvorak from the start, and never suffer QWERTY’s inefficiency.

But we must never suggest forcing QWERTY typists to switch! People who are already fast QWERTY typists might do better in Dvorak, and often do, but the decision to switch must always be voluntary.

Switching is not always easy. A Navy study in 1941 showed the cost of retraining could be recouped in ten days (after training ended). But the Navy had the luxury of assigning the study’s subjects to non-typing duties while they switched. Indeed, for best results it is important to avoid or at least minimize typing work outside of actual training sessions, and to not use QWERTY at all until the Dvorak pattern is fully learned.

People who make their living at a keyboard might not be able to afford losing even two or three weeks of work. If the change were a mandate, switchers would be more likely to try rushing the process, risking failures that in turn would be blamed on the layout, and not on poor training.

Also consider that an attempt to mandate switching will be countered with citations of the 1950’s GSA study that advised against switching. I am certain that study was flawed at best, probably biased, but many people will choose to believe it anyway.

Fortunately, the GSA recommendation was against switching. It is a real stretch to claim it applies to new typists who haven’t already learned QWERTY. Certainly the study does not argue against assuring equal access to either layout in all work and school environments. Legislation to provide that should be enough to encourage voluntary adoption by new typists.

Only the most unreasonable Dvorak opponents would argue against assuring freedom of access to this built-in, no-cost computer resource, by anyone who wants to use it.

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15 Responses to “Start the Revolution Without Me”

  1. Keith says:

    I agree. Giving people the option and disseminating the knowledge about a superior layout would be a good idea. However, forcing people into using it might turn it into a chore. People will actually have to learn how to type (which is an effort, but one I’m glade I took) unless all the keyboards are hard-wired Dvorak.

  2. Cyberg says:

    That linked article looks completely fake to me. I see no links to official sources anywhere and it seems to have been posted by the same person mentioned in the article.

    The tone of the article is like something out of The Onion.

    If you find something official, post a link to that, but I think that particular article is just a troll.


  3. marcus says:

    If by “fake” you mean self-aggrandizing nonsense, I agree. But I do believe the poster takes himself seriously, so his posts prompted me to present a more moderate view.

  4. Bob Jones says:

    Quite right we should not pressure individuals. But governments and giant corporations need to be reminded that Dvorak would save them money and time.

    Including Steve Jobs. Apple put Dvorak in its computers, but they have not put it in the iphone.

    Let’s have a protest about that.


    Bob jones

  5. Dennis says:

    ^ While you’re at it, make Apple include Svorak for Swedish, too? 😀

  6. There is already precedence for requiring Technological change for everyone in America in the HD television change over that happened last year. Everyone was forced to either get a new television or spend 40 to 60 dollars for an HD converter box. The switch to Dvorak is free at best or could cost as little as four dollars per keyboard.

    We in the mandatory conversion to Dvorak camp have long since changed our focus from the ease of learning, less finger motion, fewer mistakes selling points of why to switch to Dvorak and moved on to the bottom line. Mandatory switching to the Dvorak keyboard will save the country anywhere from 250 billion dollars to as much as one trillion dollars in lost productivity per year.

    Add to that the fact that less than five percent of Americans actually touch type on a Qwerty keyboard and it is easy to see why Qwerty is no longer an acceptable alternative for any body. Those who must switch are so greatly outnumbered by those who will still hunt and peck that it would also make great sense to just make it a national movement where those who do know how to touch type on a Qwerty be given other chores during the month or less that they need to enable the switch. Remember that the navy said that the cost to retrain can be recouped in ten days.

    Yes. We can Dvorak! But it will take bold action from Congress and the President to force it upon the people for the sake of the nation. And as America goes so will the rest of the world. Now is not the time for every body has free will. It is time for real leadership. Nobody was asked if they wanted to join the army during the draft. The economy is in such a sad state mainly because of the inefficiency Qwerty that we must look at our mission in terms of a war on Qwerty.

    The challenge is there and all must rise to the occasion.

  7. marcus says:

    The previous post has been in my pending list for a while. Sorry, I have been distracted.

    I approved the post because it is topical, but I do not approve of the idea. Talking about mandatory conversion is a sure-fire way to drum up anti-Dvorak sentiment, and there is absolutely no reason to suggest it. On the contrary, we need to encourage the availability of choice. Mandate freedom.

    [Edit] I neglected to mention: The HD example is a bad precedent because that mandate was driven by unique resource limitations that don’t apply to computer keyboard layouts. A radio or TV broadcast using inappropriate bandwidth or indiscriminate tuning interferes with other broadcasts. This is the essential fact first used in the 1920’s to justify radio regulation (including technology mandates affecting signal bandwidth and quality). Radio was already in danger of becoming useless without regulation.

    Old analog TV signals use excessive bandwidth when compared to modern technology, and they do so in a frequency range that is valuable for regional communication. Replacing analog TV with digital TV doesn’t just allow higher density video, it also frees up valuable bandwidth for more TV channels or other uses.

    By contrast, the “bandwidth” of a keyboard layout is less than one data block per user, typically 4 KB. That’s roughly $0.00, even at several hundred dollars per terabyte of storage. In other words, Dvorak really is free! (As is Svorak, or any other layout you want, even QWERTY.) There is no resource-based justification for forcing the change on individuals.

    (It is appropriate to require a particular target typing speed for this or that job. This requirement is likely to favor Dvorak typists. But the candidate should always be allowed to decide which layout to use.)

  8. scorchgeek says:

    Update: The guy sent a message to the altkeyboards mailing list recently:

  9. Your fears about a backlash from Qwerty typists is unfounded in the facts surrounding the actual numbers of people who actually touch type and the History of the Qwerty keyboards.

    Fewer than 5% of all of the people who use keyboards actually touch type. 95% still do some version of hunt-and-peck.

    And in the history of Qwerty is the fact that the Qwerty was made to slow down the hands of people who use two fingers to hunt and peck.

    Sholes the man who invented the Qwerty keyboard in 1873 was faced with a problem. The mechanical keyboards of the time were so slow that people who used two fingers to type kept jamming the machines so he deliberately put the most used letters as far apart as possible. This solved his problem. Touch typing was not even invented until the 1920’s.

    So the bottom line is that for more than 95% of all Qwerty keyboardists a switch away from Qwerty to Dvorak will speed up their typing instantly as they hunt and peck. I have listened to the members of my ALT typing group and am going to make sure to go slow with my recommendations for the inevitable switch to Dvorak.

    First I am going to recommend removing the obstacles to typing on a Dvorak by employers, schools and testing centers.

    Next I am going to recommend requiring dual labelling of all keyboards sold in the United States for the only people who will be using Qwerty who are the tiny minority of Qwerty touch typists.

  10. Ed Kovac says:

    i have used our wonderful “Simplified” keyboard layoutc for years now. (maybe 10 years. and i am 34 now.) i am very thankful for this comfortable layout. i find interesting wierd things like this, and “BitCoins”, and Ido (an International Auxiliary Language). and with this oddity, the Dvorak keyboard, i read a good deal about it before i made my switch, but i had so much swimming in my head about results and controversies of statistics. so i decided to consider only opinions of people who tried it. and they were hugely in favor *for* our Simplified keyboard layout. and
    and if i have read anything about people who may have switched back to the Qwerty from the Dvorak it was only because of the difficulty they had in using it (the Dvorak layout) and a Qwerty layout in a multi-layout environment, which i have experienced that difficulty too.

    if i read anything about people who may have switched it was only because of the difficulty they had in using it and a Qwerty layout in a multi-layout environment, which i have experienced that difficulty too.

    but thankfully, those are rare situations.

    this has been a very interesting thread/topic/conversation, and i thank all who have participated. i find it especially interesting that gregory gordon has: 1: been a Dvorak supporter since 7(?)th grade, 2: had a vision which persuaded him that he is the Creator, and 3: believes that a mandatory forcing of peope against their will is the *right* way to prove he’s God and the Messiah. i will mention that the same God that he claims to be, has never forced anyone against their will. not once. i will only point out that according to what i see, judged by the very same writings which teach that Jesus is the Messiah, gregory would be judged the opposite of what he claims. Please consider this, gregory: the Scriptures that teach Jesus is the Messiah, also teach that He is a *loving* Messiah who did not condemn the guilty (woman caught in adultery) but told her (commanded her) to “Go and sin no more.” i do not really write this for gordon’s benefit, altho it is my desire that this would enlighten him to the truth, but i write this excerpt to expose to others, gordon’s true motive: our “Simplfied Keyboard” as Mr. Dvorak called it, is truly superior, but gordon wants to force a good thing to show evidence that he is the Messiah. and it’s funny that no one agrees with him that it should be forced on anyone. just as Gordon chose to get an F in typing class because his teacher unfairly forced him to use the qwerty in his High School keyboarding class, i would choose to defy congress if they tried to take away my freedom of choice by forcing me to use this superior keyboard layout against my choice. but i am thankful for my free will, and free will is much more important than any keyboard layout.. even the most efficient and comfortable layout for the English language. i am a computer programmer, someone who so appreciates the advantage of 1/3rd as much work on my hands in a day, but i would rather kiss every computer goodbye than give up one freedom such as this.

    free will is critical to the American way of life. only a dictator would try to take away our freedom. not even the God of the Scriptures which point to Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords attempts to force people against their will. In Genesis, He commanded Adam and Eve. and He commands people thru-out those Scriptures, but not once has He forced a person against their will. just perhaps He also says, “I am bigger” than those who force their own puny wills upon others. now i understand there are times when rules must be made too, and followed and enforced. but all those are contingent upon real harm to others. forcing a keyboard layout would be bad. just like forcing everyone to speak English. but this has been done in the past, many times. 🙁 but English is one of the worst languages for a global “International Language” due to it’s complexities beyond the most basic English. the same Bible that gordon seems to claim to believe in even states that the true God has even divided people’s tongues! now why would a great God of unity decide to cause people to be divided against themselves? perhaps He has a bigger plan that you/gordon does not see. perhaps this God is against world unity before the proper time. and perhaps, just perhaps, this same God has intentionally *also* cause people to use very complex archaic human languags *and* inefficient keyboard layouts too! but i don’t want to turn this into a philosophy discussion, altho i do find it interesting.

    Dvorak was a genius! i stand amazed that he designed his layout without computers, and computer programs have later been developed to find the easiest keyboard layout, and they found the same key placements that he used. (i did not verify the validity of these reports, so this is only claims, but i do believe this is very likely.)

    well, thanks to all who have helped me see this great tool! if you have a website for the Dvorak keyboard, you are doing people a great favor! and i thank you,
    -Ed Kovac <

    [MWB: Applied clarifying edits Ed posted in a follow-up.]

  11. marcus says:

    FYI: I started this with a reference to Gordon writing as “GOD,” so I guess Ed’s post is fair. Just let’s try to keep this free will stuff relevant to keyboard choices. If this turns into a religious discussion I might have to start posting sermons for y’all to comment about. That’s a threat. (Although my dad said once I should be a preacher. Mostly because I’m loud.)

    I will throw in a plug for English. I’ve heard it’s actually a fairly young and therefore simple language, compared to some. Simpler languages tend to rely even more on nonverbal context to resolve ambiguity. That’s bad for text.

  12. Every day people are “forced” to use Qwerty simply because they do not know that they have any other choice, and because it is what is taught in schools. Free will has nothing to do with it, there is no such thing in this case. Learning to type on a Qwerty is very hard and counter intuitive and is costing multiple trillions of dollars in lost productivity, insurance payments, worker’s compensation, and out of pocket expenses.

    On a personal level no one has a right to injure others and that is precisely what is happening. More than 500,000 carpal tunnel release operations take place in the United States every year with a huge failure rate. Only 23 percent of people who have the operation return to the same line of work. It is responsible for 14% of all doctors visits and 19% of all hospital stays. The services of countless people revolve around the Qwerty physical and economic health hazard

    No competent member of the clergy would go on allowing this to knowingly happen to his flock. If there is a choice. There are alternatives and the best (all things considered) is Dvorak on a Kinesis Advantage Qwerty Dvorak keyboard.

    As for God dividing the languages, as I remember, the Bible says: Now they all have one language, there is no limit to what they can do.

    This time around God is a benevolent dictator. “… and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.”

    The Bottom Line is The Bottom Line. Qwerty is destroying people’s health and ruining the economy. And the cure is simple. Stop teaching Qwerty. If you are using a Kinesis Dvorak there is no need to be taught. Just memorize the keyboard then place your fingers on the blue keys and start typing. That’s how I did it without even the help of a Kinesis.

    Ed, thanks for the discussion I wish everyone would phrase their arguments in the manner that you did.

  13. Scott Tucker says:

    Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get
    a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

  14. marcus says:

    I don’t know. I moderate the few legit comments that come in. (I use Akismet to filter comment spam.) To hide my email address in the About page, I use reCAPTCHa. I’m not sure how well it works, or how it compares to others. I sure get a lot of email spam, but I’ve used the same address for a long time, and once it’s out, it’s out.

  15. marcus says:

    Oho. Looks like there’s a class of comment that goes through akismet without moderation. But the only one I’ve seen was obviously legit, and clearly topical, whereas akismet kicks out several thousand spams a day, and flags a couple for moderation, which I approve if they’re not offensive or blatant spam and they’re even slightly topical (like yours, BTW). So I’m still not looking for a comment captcha.

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