News of the death of the QWERTY keyboard came, as well it would, via TikTok. It is there that Riley Keen posts videos of himself tapping out 500 words per minute – double the amount the human mind can compute. Using a CharaChorder – a device that looks almost like a digi-age dumbbell, with nine small joysticks on each of two black spheres connected by a silver bar – Keen is able to touch-type so fast that he has recently been banned from online typing competitions.

CharaChorder, of which Keen is CEO, is “creating a new standard for the digital age” – one that will allow users to “type at the speed of thought”. The device can type individual letters, but the real gains are made by “chording”, where the user inputs several at a time, generating a predicted word. This method is similar to that used by stenographers: they take down words by syllable (so “calendar” can be reached in three strokes – cal/en/dar), rather than eight individual taps. While the stenographer’s keyboard doesn’t boast CharaChorder’s 17 billion-word combinations, its 22 keys mean 300 words can be formed each minute.

Not necessary, you might think, to sate most of our needs to bash out a few emails. But speed-typing has been a prized skill since at least the early 1900s, when Rose L. Fitz – a 17-year-old American fresh out of stenography school – was named the world’s fastest; in 1908.

The advent of computers in the 1970s didn’t dent that, but rather sped it up. The layout of the QWERTY keyboard (so named for the first six characters on the top row) was lifted from the first commercially successful typewriter, which had reached the market a century earlier – and still, little has changed. Dvorak attempted to unseat it in the mid-1930s, with an ergonomic design that spread the typing evenly across each hand (QWERTY is almost 60 per cent left-reliant); its middle row can create 3,000 common English words, compared to the sub-100 of its predecessor. It was championed by Barbara Blackburn, who in 1985 broke and then maintained the Guiness World Record as the world’s fastest typist, reaching 150wpm over 50 minutes.

For the mere mortal, 40wpm is the norm on a QWERTY; “the fastest people I’ve seen have been legal secretaries, and they’re typing at around 120wpm,” says Darryl Samuels, acourse coordinator at a company, which provides touch-typing lessons as part of its secretarial diplomas.

CharaChorder places its average at 300wpm; faster than we read (250wpm) or speak (150wpm). “I haven’t used a keyboard in over a year and I have no need to ever use one again,” Keen says. But just how valuable is producing words faster than our minds can process them?

The more likely death knell for the keyboard will come via speech recognition, Samuels thinks, as this “is going to reduce the need for people to use a keyboard beyond just correcting whatever [it] has put on to the document”. Like the slow-paced handwritten letter before it – we write 13wpm by hand – as technology becomes adept at transmuting audio to screen, may be QWERTY’s days might be numbered.

The Daily Telegraph

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