Techlnology Lifecycles and the QWERTY Keyboard
By seanharris on May 25, 2007
On a recent enforced stay in hospital imagine my excitement at spoting the in bed entertainment unit. Resembling something like the in flight control systems of a Star Wars spaceship it hung temptingly in the corner. Unfortunately due to the nature of my injury, an eye infection, I was unable to make use of this high-tech gizmo for several days.
The device itself offered access to TV channels, e-mail and web. Initially, I took a subscription to the device to enable the TV channels to help fight the boredom of being in hospital, as my eye infection began to improve I was able to make use of the web access.
This was when I got to thinking about the progress of technology and the different speeds at which it is adopted and its lifespan. Here I was is lying in a hospital bed with full access to the treasures of the World Wide Web, and what was I using to control it with a QWERTY keyboard. Perhaps the contrast was made more significant by the difficulty I was having in being able to focus on the rather small QWERTY keyboard, or perhaps, the contrast was made stronger by the podcast I had just watched about the birth of the World Wide Web.
The QWERTY keyboard was invented in 1868. Its main purpose was to ensure the optimum operation of the typewriter mechanics rather than optimising the interface between man and machine. Over the years various standards for the QWERTY keyboard have grown up in various countries around the world. Also, the mechanics that the keyboard was designed to protect have completely disappeared. Yet it still is the most popular interface between man and machine. The only interface that can possibly claim to exceed its use is the numeric keypad of a mobile phone with predictive text and few would argue that this is a more efficient interface. Despite several attempts through history, to design a more efficient user interface the QWERTY keyboard still seems to survive. When will it be replaced?
To bring this story back up-to-date. I was however unable to purchase the speech recognition software, which I am now using to dictate this posting, over the Internet from a hospital bed to be delivered to my home on the day I was finally discharged.
The next time someone wants to start a debate with the assumption that all technology has a limted lifespan and therefore it is only sensible to consider what comes next now you may want to remind them of the QWERTY keyboard which has long out lived it design goals and it's reason for being and yet continues to see much innovation!