In the 1930s, August Dvorak studied typewriting behavior and wrote a long book about it, called, amazingly, Typewriting behavior.
The currently widely used keyboard layout – commonly called “qwerty”, and now internationalized with minor variations – was designed haphazardly; there is even evidence that its design deliberately slows typists down. Dvorak concluded that qwerty was very inefficient, and designed several rational and efficient layouts: one for two hands, and one each for the left and right hands alone. (Try Google for details.)
I learned to type, on a qwerty keyboard, in the sixth grade. Nothwithstanding my years of qwerty muscle memory, I was intrigued by this “new” layout (now seventy-odd years old and mostly unheard-of and unused), and decided to give it a try. This was mostly out of my (somewhat obsessive) interest in trying to find and use the Right Thing, the perfect tool for the job.
A lot of people believe that using a Dvorak layout eases strain on the hands, and helps to prevent, or ease the symptoms of, typing-induced repetitive stress injury (RSI).
I had never experienced any numbness or soreness in my hands, or any other signs of RSI, even though I have used qwerty keyboards – both typewriter and computer – quite heavily in my twenty-some-odd years of typing... until I tried Dvorak. I have been using the layout for about three years now, and have experienced occasional trouble, especially with my right hand. I find this very odd, as it contradicts everyone else’s experience and belief.
It may have something to do with my heavy use of certain Unix commands – like “ls -l” – that on the Dvorak layout are typed entirely with the pinky of the right hand. I haven’t yet done so, but I’d like to conduct an experiment: remapping that command to a more comfortable place on the keyboard.
I’m also considering switching back to qwerty – I don’t think it would be that hard – partly because of my RSI experience, but also because I used to have a beautiful Olympia manual typewriter, made in Germany in the 1950s, that I miss dearly. There aren’t many (any?) typewriters that use the Dvorak layout.
I like typewriters.