September 7, 2021

Pinky Pressing Problemdiscovering and addressing a lapse in typing technique

I discovered sometime back that I’d almost completely stopped typing the letter p with my little finger. I was shifting my right hand to press with my ring finger, sometimes even my middle finger.

Try it for yourself:

Purple people play popular pop songs.

Discovering this came as a bit of a shock. I’ve touch-typed pretty much as long as I’ve typed. I was fortunate enough to go to a school that started us early, using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing on some kind of Apple, in something like the second or third grade. I know I typed p with my little finger back then. Sometime during the intervening decades, that stopped being true.

In some cases, typing p with bigger fingers seems adaptive. There are words without p that I’ve grown accustomed to typing with hands shifted, for speed. But I’ve clearly also started shifting my right toward the Enter key when it would be faster to leave it in home position. Especially to set up the next word in the sentence.

I can’t tell exactly why my technique changed, in part because I can’t tell when it changed, only when I noticed that it had changed. I suspect that using mechanical keyboards with stiffer than usual springs—my longtime go-to Vortexgear Poker has Cherry MX-brand “clear” switches—may have contributed. I’ve since switched back to a keyboard with the softer brown-stemmed switches and committed to intentional, remedial practice. Going back to the clear-switch board now, I find it noticeably more difficult to type p with my little finger. It’s a weak finger in an awkward position against a stiff spring.

As a side note, this interesting study of typists’ movement strategies identified a common right-hand strategy the researchers called “‘lapsed’ touch typist”, where the little finger continues to press right-side Shift, the middle finger takes over p, and the middle finger sometimes types o and i, as well. I found the top-level takeaway from that study—that typing with five fingers can be as fast as typing with ten—a bit disingenuous. None of the typists studied reached speeds that I’d call “fast”. But I still think the study worth reading, if only because there are so few like it, and the authors dutifully survey the prior literature.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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