Long before the computer or even the typewriter was invented, the word “keyboard” referred to part of a musical instrument, where ten fingers would tap out melody and harmony rather than spreadsheets and form letters. But as BBC commentator Tom Chatfield points out, there’s a lot of similarity between the way we interact with the two types of keyboards, and how that interaction may change in the future.
We’ve looked at different types of modern keyboards in previous posts, but it’s interesting to note that for all intents and purposes we’re still using a keyboard layout that dates back to 1873, when Milwaukie-area inventor Christopher Sholes arranged letters in the QWERTY formation in order to prevent jammed mechanisms. In other words, he put the letters on the keyboard in a way that would actually slow typing speed so that the individual metal parts of the early keyboard wouldn’t get stuck to each other. Although that problem has absolutely no meaning in the world of computers (or even today’s electric typewriters) most of us are still using a system that was never designed to let us type at our fastest possible speed.
In Chatfield’s post, he talks about a new musical keyboard that’s touch-sensitive, flexible, and accepts movement in three dimensions (side to side and front to back, not just the up-and-down key tap). The “Seaboard” has the potential to change the way musicians connect with their instruments, and how they make music. It might be interesting to see something similar for a computer keyboard, where a little extra pressure on the keys would make a font bold, or the text size larger, eliminating the reduced typing speed caused by taking the fingers off the letter/number keys to access these formatting features. Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem of the 150-year-old QWERTY layout, but new perspectives and new inventions mean that there will always be alternatives to explore.