Switching to Dvorak

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A few years ago, I switched my keyboard layout to Dvorak. My reason for switching was that my hands were aching after typing all day, and since my job is all typing, something needed to change.

This morning when I logged into work, a bunch of my co-workers were talking about making the switch from QWERTY to Dvorak (or Colemak), so I figured it was time to write a bit about it.

When I first contemplated switching, I was concerned that switching would “lock me out” of all the QWERTY computers of the world. That’s not really how it works. You don’t suddenly forget what a QWERTY layout is; rather, you add to that existing muscle memory. Think of it as learning a new language. I will say that I type differently now on QWERTY than I used to. I have always been a touch typer, but now when I type on QWERTY, I tend to not use all 10 fingers anymore. I can hurtle along at a pretty normal pace, still, if I’m using my husband’s computer. For a few months after really absorbing the Dvorak layout, QWERTY was alien, and I had to look down now and then to get through some words. And I attribute part of that to switching my phone keyboard to Dvorak – which was a mistake.

When I made the switch, I switched entirely. I didn’t waffle between the two layouts. I had a miserable few days, trying to just communicate with my co-workers online – we don’t use voice for the most part. It was really frustrating! It was powerfully motivating to just be able to communicate again to buckle down to the lessons and make it work. When I got really stuck, I’d open Simplenote and type “zandy zandy zandy zandy” until it was very natural. I felt less mute when I could write out my own name without hitching. Slowly, more words came. Within about 10 days, I was back to about my normal speed. I chose the DQ layout on my MacBook, so that when I hold the Command key the keyboard reverts – super helpful for traditional keyboard shortcuts like command+c and command+v for cut and paste (respectively). Command+space switches the layouts between Dvorak and QWERTY (useful if I’m totally flubbing a password input and I can’t paste from my password manager – looking at you, Bank).

After a few months of typing Dvorak exclusively, the Grand Meetup rolled around, and I picked myself up a copy of the little comic shown in the photo, and a Dvorak keyboard cover (which I actually keep in my backpack these days). The keyboard cover is nice to have, even though I don’t look at my keyboard, because the kids like to practice on it. Also at the GM, I had a dinner with Matt and he helped me change my phone keyboard layout to Dvorak, while telling me it was a bad idea. And – big surprise – he turned out to be right! The way you type on a phone is so radically different than how you type on a full-size keyboard, that you don’t actually gain efficiency on Dvorak on the phone. Also, the way that a QWERTY keyboard is designed (to be inefficient) is perfect for typing on a phone, because you don’t accidentally crash your thumbs into each other – but you do with Dvorak. So after limping along with that layout for 3 or 4 months, I switched it back. It is not the slightest bit weird to have one layout on the device and another on the keyboard. The key, I think, is to stop thinking of your computer keyboard as your “default” – because at this point, it really isn’t. It’s one input device, of many that you probably use. And you should be using the layout that works best on each input device.



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