My long-awaited Arts and Crafts keyboard arrived yesterday from Datamancer Enterprises. Its copper and white leather, plus the Celtic knot-work design on the space bar is exactly what I envisioned. But what surprises me is the way the sound and feel of the mechanical action of its keys affects my writing.
It’s been years since I thought I needed special tools for writing. A professional writer, I maintain, ought to be able to work with whatever is at hand. So, while I have my preferences, over the years I have written on everything from a Palm pilot in its graffiti alphabet to the keyboard of a smart phone to a notebook. The point has never seemed the hardware, but preserving the content as quickly as it comes to me. Everything else has seemed pretension to me, like the various software tools that are supposed to help wannabes (Vim or a basic text editor is usually enough for me).
Still, I didn’t always feel that way. As a young adult with poetic aspirations, I was convinced that my writing was somehow tied to the muscular movements of a pen. The words I wrote by hand seemed to have a deeper, more thoughtful tone than things I attempted to write on a keyboard, and possibly a richer vocabulary as well. But somewhere in the first years of the millennium, I learned to do all my writing in front of a computer, and if my style suffered as a result, the damage was not enough to stop me from publishing regularly.
However, as soon as my fingertips connected with the new keyboard, I was aware of a change in how I was writing. It wasn’t that I had to press the keys slightly harder than I do on a cheap keyboard. Rather, I seemed to be paying more attention to what I was doing. What came next seemed to be blossoming in my mind earlier and quicker than with a cheap keyboard, and I was more likely to go back as I was writing and make changes in wording and structure, rather than leaving such changes for my revisions. The right word seemed to come morre easily. On the whole, I seemed to have a greater understanding about what the item I was composing needed.
At first, I thought the change was the result of the louder click alone. That surprised me, at first, because previously I would have imagined that I preferred a silent keyboard. But the sound of my new keyboard is the sound of progress being made – a sort of mechanical cheering to encourage me to keep going.
But that doesn’t seem to be whole of it. The action of the keys seems to be involved, too. The slight extra pressure on the keys seems to make a difference, and not just because at the end of yesterday my fingers felt like they had had an extra workout. Instead, it’s more like the connection between me and the words that I used to feel with a pen has been re-established.
After some thinking, I now wonder if the low-end keyboards I’ve used until now make typing too easy. Their keys are so sensitive that they require little effort on my part. That may sound like a desirable trait, but the lack of effort seems to severe my sense of connection. Now, entirely by accident, that connection has been restored in a way that I never thought possible (let alone necessary) with a keyboard.
Or, to put it another way, my new keyboard is like a bicycle: It extends my capabilities, but by supplementing the movement of my fingers instead of replacing them. By contrast, standard keyboards are a like a car, reducing my muscular actions to no more than a signal, and replacing them with its own actions. The slightly greater effort required by new keyboard is just enough to make me aware of what I was doing.
I’ll have to see how I feel as I’m settling down with the new keyboard. But, for now, I’m convinced that it is bring me closer to what I am doing, engaging me in a way that other keyboards do not.
It seems to me that this is what the best technology should do. Instead, many machines seem to reduce the need for human action. The result is that we are subtly alienated from our production, even when doing something like writing that is supposed to be creative.
All I know for sure is that I already I seem to detect a different cadence in my writing, and a tone that is closer to my speaking voice than most of what I create on the computer. I look forward to using the new keyboard, because it seems to be one the rare tools that really will help me to write more effectively.