Monday, July 27, 2015

What the Colemak keyboard tells me about my mind

In my long-term fight against repetitive strain injury pain, I've tried many different keyboards and input devices, but I've never really tried abandoning the QWERTY keyboard layout.

Last week I decided it was time. Most of my keystrokes since then have been using the Colemak layout, which was an obscure upstart when I last wrote about alternate layouts (and chose Colemak's close relative, Asetion) but has since moved a few keys around, gained impressive traction, and nearly eclipsed Dvorak in geek street cred.

I'm really liking it and finding it makes a difference for my pain, thanks to how many keystrokes take place on the home row. This seems to allow me to often apply just the minimum pressure necessary to trigger a keystroke, something that is very hard to do when your finger is traveling to another key and has to travel back quickly.

Any kind of mental remapping reveals surprising terrain: solitary notions you assume to be separate which turn out to be conjoined; intimately bound associations that announce they are perfectly happy to go to separate ways.

I use many keyboard shortcuts, both standard and custom ones I create with the excellent Keyboard Maestro. I'm surprised to find that even when the typing circuits in my brain have fully accepted a key's new home, the keyboard shortcuts that used that letter insist they will remain where they are. "Command-e" is not registered in my brain as "Command-wherever-the-e-is". It is registered as "Command-middle-finger-of-left-hand-up". Moving that shortcut is a completely different mental process then moving each of its components.

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