Lately, I've been doing a lot of typing. Even more than usual, because if there's anything that's good for productivity, it's working in an environment with no meetings or other productivity drainers.
This activity has not gone unnoticed by my wrists. The last five days or so, my wrists have been hurting a lot, relatively speaking. I'm nowhere near the pain levels I've heard others describe, where they literally can't pick up a glass of water, but the fact that all that stands between me and that outcome is about nothing has been weighing rather heavily on my mind.
Given that skillwise I'm a one-trick pony (I think to get ahead in a world of six billion people you need to play to your strengths; you can't be a generalist), this is a major concern on a number of levels. Therefore, I decided to meet this problem head on and take suitably drastic measures.
First, of course I took some serious time off from typing and I think my wrists are finally feeling better. But more interestingly, I've switched my keyboard to the Dvorak layout, as shown on sites like this.
There has been a lot of heat shed on the Dvorak issue, much of it over eighty years old. If you want to know more about it, a web search on Dvorak will teach you a lot. (OK, I admit it, my typing speed is still slow enough to make summarizing a hundred-year-old controversy daunting.) I haven't written about it yet in the context of reading the news yet, but I applied my yardstick of "What objective facts are there that I can intepret without needing to resort to the analysis of others?", and here's what I get:
- The inventor of QWERTY himself percieved a shortcoming in the layout and patented a different design. The design pre-dates Dvorak, but does resemble it in one significant way: It has all the vowels under one hand. Conclusion: Even the creator didn't think QWERTY was necessarily ideal.
- You can listen to the experts duel it out, but the difference between the two layouts is profound, and simple, fairly bullet-proof logic favors Dvorak. I endorse that essay, though I can't speak to all the comments. It's not all about speed; Dvorak universally beats QWERTY for typing English text but not by enough to make it worth the switch for most people. It's about the comfort and reduced stress. (This programmatic approach is also interesting.)
- There is no scientific evidence that Dvorak can reduce Repetitive Stress Injury... because there is no evidence at all. So we're on our own for this one. It is logical that it shouldn't do more damage, though, and the anecdotal evidence (which can't be discarded as easily when it is all you have!) is that it can and does.
I have many years to amortize the advantages, and now is probably the best time of my life to try it, so here's hoping it helps, so I can stop freaking out and get on with the rest of my life.
So far, I'm five days in and typing is still a major effort to remember where all the keys are. I rarely manage to surge to a high rate of speed, but about five keys into those surges I find myself slipping into QWERTY and having to backspace. It is fascinating observing myself learn the layout; for instance, my learning rate has a definite daily platea, beyond which I cannot pass until I sleep and resume the next day. In the morning I am suddenly better. This is all well-supported by research, it's just that I have never had an opportunity to witness it so closely from the inside.
Wish me luck!