Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Keyboards For The Rest Of You


In writing last week’s post about the QWERTY problem, I discovered a completely different keyboard dilemma. Despite many years investigating special devices for various disabilities, I was unaware of this major, and common, keyboard problem—and I’ll bet you were, too.

The QWERTY problem is about how badly the alphabet is arranged on keyboards. That’s bad enough, but for hundreds of millions of people the order of these keys is only part of the problem. For them it’s the other keys on the keyboard—the non-alphabet keys.

These keys include a number pad (duplicating the numbers of the QWERTY keys), arrow and direction keys (Page Up, Page Down, Home and End)—also duplicated on most keyboards, and additional special keys such as Insert, Delete, Backspace, and the ever popular and usually duplicated Enter key. Then there are the twelve function keys. My keyboard also duplicates keys for Control, Alt, Shift, and Windows. There are eight more keys on this keyboard. Can you guess what they are?

The point of this inventory is that most of these keys reside to the right of the letter keys. Clearly, the manufacturers expect our right hands to use these keys. Further to the right, beyond the keyboard, sits the mouse, also intended for the right hand. All of this looks like a perfectly reasonable arrangement until you consider that roughly ten percent of the population is left-handed.

Probably many of you are aware that five out of the last seven U.S. Presidents were left-handed. But how many know that over the past hundred years, seven out of our seventeen Presidents were left-handed? That’s 41 percent. How many of society’s highest achievers are being hindered by right-handed keyboard layouts?

Since using a keyboard is a very intimate act, I suppose many lefties are reluctant to shop online. (Does Ned Flanders carry these keyboards?) And I’m sure many southpaws resent paying extra for their “special” keyboards. But they must remember: this is America, and being different has a price.

The price, in this case, also includes your time. But don’t waste it at Dell or Best Buy—they can’t help you. Just search the Internet for “left-handed keyboard” and you’ll have plenty of options, even Amazon.

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