Dvorak Musings

Well, its been 3 months since I decided to start typing using the dvorak layout. I must say that switching has been both a blessing and a curse. One thing that I can say with certainty is that typing dvorak is less of a strain than qwerty. My speed in dvorak still isn’t what it was in qwerty, but it continues to improve.

One thing that the inventors of dvorak didn’t take into account is the mouse. A lot of programs have keys that are set up for the left hand so that you can keep your right hand on the mouse. Case in point: ctrl-z, ctrl-x, ctrl-c, ctrl-v in a text editor. Shuffling text around in a text editor using the mouse and qwerty is a snap, but impossible to do effectively in dvorak.

Second thing: the dvorak articles I read recommended total immersion in dvorak, meaning all the PCs you use should be switched at once. The immersion thing definitely helped, since the the d, e, f, s, l, (and a few others) are very hard to re-learn. However, this is a bad idea in the long run. Learning dvorak is like learning a second language in the sense that the two key layouts do not mentally interfere. But what they neglect to tell you is that muscle memory is very important. If you do not use qwerty every now and then, your proficiency will seriously degrade because your muscle memory for dvorak will start to trump your mental memory for qwerty.

Other than that, its scary the way the two layouts coexist in your brain. For example, I learned to type a dvorak “l” with my pinky. Even though the physical key is a qwerty “p”, I still incorrectly type “p” in qwerty with my ring finger and can’t force myself to do otherwise. Another scary thing is how fast you can mentally switch gears between the two layouts. I can go from typing very quickly in qwerty to typing very quickly in dvorak… mid sentence. Words can’t express how abstract typing feels now — I guess it would be like taking one of those double-necked gutars and rearranging the strings one one neck, then being able to play a complicated solo while randomly switching between the two tunings. It just doesn’t seem like you should be able to do it.

Conclusions? Definitely learn dvorak. You will take a hit in productivity for a while, but you’ll survive. Immerse yourself in dvorak for a full month. In the second or third month, start typing qwerty on the weekends. After 3 months, use them interchangeably. Dvorak is much MUCH more comfortable and speedy when typing long passages of text (like this one) — even on a non-ergonomic keyboard. But, you have to face the facts that a lot of interfaces are designed for the keyboard and mouse combination, so its good to have a hotkey to switch layouts when you need it.