Forward Momentum Is Great As Long As You Can See The Edge of the Cliff

The only way that I could figure they could improve upon Coca-Cola, one of life’s most delightful elixirs, which studies prove will heal the sick and occasionally raise the dead, is to put bourbon in it. –Lewis Grizzard

I’m not a man who is afraid of a little change.

  • PDCs and BDCs to Active Directory DCs? No problem.
  • Mac OS to Mac OS X? No biggie.
  • South Beach Bars to Nabisco SnackWell’s? Just the way the cookie crumbles.
  • Flavored toothpaste to unflavored toothpaste? Whatever. I just spit it out anyway.

You get the point.

However, there is one area of life where I always find change difficult, and that is change related to the tools that I use to write. My word processing platform of choice is something familiar to me, and it makes the process of sitting down to churn thoughts into creative meaning a lot like relaxing in a comfortable chair.

Yet the software isn’t the only conducer of the creative juice. I also have specific places and environments where it’s easier to create. My study at home, for instance. Or the kitchen table at my in-laws’ place at 2:30 in the morning, when the rest of the house is asleep.

Add to that the familiarity of the particular human input device I use (that’s keyboard to you), and you uncover a delicate balance, a nurturing ecosystem of contributors to my production of technical documents, poetry, short stories, and a novel (well, a partial novel).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not so wholly averse to upsetting that balance that I refuse to keep up with the times, as did the late great Lewis Grizzard; a man who reportedly insisted on writing his four-day-a-week humor column on a manual typewriter long after the dawn of the word processor. I’m all for making the process of getting the words on the page (screen) easier. And I much prefer the Backspace key to Wite-Out.

But there is one thing about modern technological advance that bothers me: touchscreen keyboards. I own an iPhone. I can truly see the benefit of a touchscreen keyboard for that particular device, although I am persistently frustrated when I tap the wrong key in my ham-fisted attempts at two-thumbed typing.

Microsoft Windows 8, due in a couple of years or so, also has an on-screen keyboard. I’m sure that’s because it’s intended to scale to phones and tablets. I’ll still be able to use a regular old keyboard on a regular old laptop or desktop with it, as before. However, I find even the availability of the touchscreen keyboard on my desktop workstation utterly terrifying.

"Hey," you might say. "An on-screen keyboard is nothing new. You can launch one right from your Accessibility menu in XP. And it’s kind of neat to be able to continue to work if your keyboard breaks." To which my answers are: you’re right, but clicking a letter at a time on an on-screen keyboard isn’t exactly my idea of "continuing" work as much as "impairing" it. Can you imagine trying to write a 100,000-word novel that way? A single mouse click (or thumb tap) at a time? Granted, when you use a regular keyboard you are still hitting single letters at a time, but at least you’re using all 10 digits. Therefore, the pace of the work is a bit more impressive.

In the main, anxiety over touchscreen typing isn’t going to keep me up nights, because I don’t really believe the physical keyboard is going anywhere. I just find it ironic that many times our technological attempts to make something "better," such as including the instrument of input inside the operating system rather than as a physical device connected to the hardware, seems to suck the convenience out of digital life rather than contribute to it.