Chris van Schaick: We’ve become obsessed by keyboards

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Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This month, Chris is haunted by the tippity-tap of the QWERTY

We’ve become obsessed by our computer keyboards. They’re our status symbols, our comfort blankets and the way we communicate with the world. It’s happened comparatively recently. I came across an archive picture the other day of a Fleet Street newsroom. It showed a sub-editors desk where copy was being prepared for the print room. There were no keyboards on the desk – no typewriters, let alone computers. But the most shocking thing on the caption was the date: 1980.

That feels relatively recent. Yet the picture seemed like it was from another age and reminded me how far we’ve come with our technology in just a few years. Now everyone has some kind of keyboard to hand - from the postie to the person who takes your order in the gastro pub.

In many ways, the IT has made life much easier. But our contemporary love affair with the QWERTY has also given rise to some new bad habits.

Worst of all are the airport desks where I’m convinced novel length treatises are being written while I stand and wait. Before a flight, I usually enter all my personal data and check in online. I want to breeze through the bag drop. But the clerks have other ideas.

Tippity-tap. Clickety-clack. Fingers sweep backwards and forwards across the keys. What information could they possibly be entering that isn’t on the system already? I’ve heard what may be an urban myth that the check-in people are actually messaging their colleagues at nearby desks with disobliging remarks about us. “Look at this idiot in his holiday boater and his Blue Harbour blazer”, they may well be typing. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Car hire desks and hotel check-ins are just as bad. They seem to be putting in keystroke after keystroke of data they already know, while I stand and harrumph silently.

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In fact keyboards at counters are a power symbol now. The person in control taps at them while the customer stands helpless – not even able to see what’s on the screen.

Some of it will be to do with the obsessive gathering of marketing data. I had the temerity recently to try to buy some ink cartridges from an ink cartridge shop. The chap behind the counter wanted to know more about me than the GP does when I go for a check-up. His fingers were poised to input inside leg measurement, mother’s maiden name and other things he clearly thought were essential to know about me before he could let me have a refill.

And of course, the centrality of the keyboard to our lives has also begun to influence our language. The contemporary need for nimble keyboard hands has even given rise to a new term of derision in our house. “Sausage-fingered” has become the epithet of choice for anyone showing a lack of dexterity when it comes to computers and smartphones. Mrs. v. S. has even been known to apply the term to me. But as you know, that’s absolutE ^nonsense&.

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