Relearning a Skill

About four years ago, I read about the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard layout. Always one to try out new things, I switched my layout over, and gave it a try. I tried to learn how to retype using a different keyboard layout.

Frustrating is one word that would aptly describe that experience. Since I do most of my typing while at work, I had that computer switched over. I would switch back to Qwerty when my slow typing would frustrate me. It lasted about a week before I just gave it up.

Fast forward about a year or two, and I'm reading on Slashdot, and come across some comments about how people have switched over to Dvorak, and the reasons why. While the verdict is still out on if Dvorak actually improves typing speed, one thing that it does is reduce the stress that on your hands and wrist typing causes. Working in IT and spending at least forty hours a week in front of a keyboard, this is very important for me.

All of a sudden, I had a reason to give it a try again, and so I did. There was no switching back and forth this time. I completely removed the Qwerty layout from my system. It was slow, and frustrating, oh, and did I also mention frustrating? Typing, like a lot of things that you do physically, is something that once learned becomes a muscle memory. It's something that you can do automatically, unconsciously, anyone who can touch type will tell you. All of that was wrong all of a sudden.

The only two keys that are shared between the alphabet between the layouts are the letters A and M. Everything else is different. I felt like I was a three year old pounding on the keyboard. The letters that my brain wanted to appear were coming out all wrong.

As hard as that was though, even more difficult was relearning keyboard shortcuts. Copy, cut, and paste for instance. Even though, mentally you know it's a Ctrl-C, your fingers automatically go for the proper keys. Well, C, X, and V get moved. They're still C, X, and V, only their positions are I, B and the Period keys. Relearning the new physical locations of these and other keyboard shortcuts was probably the most difficult thing for me.

It took me about two months (a seemingly very long two months) to get to where I was comfortable with Dvorak, and perhaps another two or three to get to where I was before, speed wise, in Qwerty. I honestly can't say if it's faster or not. One thing that I know for sure is that my typos have drastically decreased. My typing accuracy is greatly improved as a result of learning the new layout. I've also never had any problems with RSI despite my constant keyboard use (though, since I never had any RSI problems before the switch, I can't tell if changing made a difference in that regard).

Dvorak is not for everyone primarily because it's not something that can be learned over night. It's more than just leaning a new style of typing since you have to unlearn the old. I, though, feel that the change was well worth the time investment.