It used to be that the only way to input data into a computer was via the card-punch system, where the computer read data from a series of punched holes in a piece of thin cardboard. The introduction of the electronic keyboard in the mid-1970s allowed for more efficient and convenient data processing. Although the modern keyboard has transformed the way we interact with a computer, it still has some drawbacks.
Most people know what a computer keyboard looks like, but may not have the skills to use it to its full potential. Whether it’s learning the correct hand positioning or knowing how to do a print-screen, there are a multitude of keyboard functions that are a mystery to the casual keyboarder. Learning how to use the keyboard takes time, comprehension and practice. Failing to understand some functions can cause unintended consequences.
The familiar QWERTY layout came about in the 1870s and has remained the standard ever since. The objective behind the design was not to improve efficiency, but to slow down typists who were jamming the mechanical typewriters when they typed too fast. Despite several attempts to reorganize the layout, like the Dvorak and XPeRT versions, the cumbersome design is ingrained into modern computer culture and remains the norm in the early 21st century.
In a study lead by United Kingdom microbiologist James Francis, it was revealed that some keyboards are even dirtier than toilet seats. Because of direct hand-to-key contact, a keyboard can collect a variety of germs and bacteria, including staph and E. coli, and pass them on to anyone who uses it. Not surprisingly, poor hand-washing hygiene and the prevalence of eating meals desk-side appear to be the main culprits for keyboard contamination.
At about 18 inches wide by 8 inches deep, the typical keyboard takes up valuable desktop space. Since it needs to be positioned front and center, the keyboard resides in the optimal area for user documents and tools. The broad spacing between the letter keys also causes the user’s hand and arm positioning to be at a wider stance, requiring more elbow room to function.
Even with new advances in ergonomic design, many keyboard users still suffer from typing-related ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the National Institutes of Health, typing on a computer keyboard is likely the most common cause of carpal tunnel. Frequent typing can also cause other stress-related injuries such as tennis elbow and back pain due to the posturing and repetitive motions required to use a keyboard.