Mt kgmd ,gkj kjd h.soav vdtnsaoh
So, three years ago I invested three weeks in becoming a proficient user of the Dvorak keyboard.
Why? I was a very proficient typist on Qwerty, as someone who spends a minimum of 50 per cent of her useful hours (and plenty of the non-useful ones) in front of a keyboard can hardly help being. I didn't need any of the extra speed reputed to be possible with Dvorak. And I could hardly spare the time, that pre-tenure summer.
But I'm a fan of good design, and the Dvorak is a very well-thought-out tool. (The Qwerty keyboard was too, but its design goal wasn't to promote efficient typing -- it was to prevent the keys of a manual typewriter from jamming.) Plus it has a geek coolness factor that seemed attractive. Plus I'd just been reading about how trying to execute well-rehearsed behaviors in some unusual way (e.g. with your off hand) is good mental exercise, promoting cognitive flexibility that can stave off symptoms of senility. I went around doing things left-handed a lot that summer. I figured that learning a new keyboard layout could be worth an extra three months of lifetime cogency. Finally, having your keyboard produce gibberish when a stranger sits down to it is a pretty good security feature (until they switch it back).
Some of the features of the Dvorak keyboard include distributing the work better between the left and right hands, placing the most commonly used keys on the home row, and planning for the efficient typing of common English digraphs. All the vowels are under the fingers of the left hand: a-o-e-u-i, rather than a-s-d-f-g. The 't-h' sequence is placed where the 'k' and 'j' are in a normal keyboard--very easy to type.
I've enjoyed being a member of this exclusive club, and I certainly was able to achieve typing speeds equal to or better than my old times with the Qwerty keyboard.
But -- I'm switching back, this summer. This may be permanent, or temporary, depending on whether my right arm finds it relaxing or not. I've started to find that my right forearm tendons are acting up. I'm thinking that my right hand already had enough to do in the other parts of my life, and the Dvorak layout, with its increased workload for the right hand, may have just pushed it over the edge. I had noticed while learning that my right arm got tired, when it really never had before. That went away with proficiency, but came back after prolonged typing. (Probably it's not rational to think that Qwerty will help, slince Dvorak is in fact thought by its proponents to be more ergonomic than Qwerty).
There are a couple of other reasons, too. When I'm visiting a foreign keyboard, or looking over someone else's shoulder and want to lean in and type a password or something, it's inconvenient to have to go into the relevant control panel and make my special keyboard layout available (and on some networked machines access to such things can be limited anyway). But if I don't switch it, it's pretty sad to be hunting and pecking and explaining defensively about how I'm actually a good typist on the Dvorak keyboard ("The what?"). (My cognitive flexibility did not extend to maintaining proficiency on two keyboards at once, sadly.)
So now I'm re-training on Qwerty (this post is typed in it). I'm progressing a bit faster than I did when learning the other direction, but not as fast as I would have thought, considering that I spent the first 20 years of my life typing in this keyboard! I think it's because the Dvorak layout really is way more sensible, linguisticaly and functionally. My fingers have a hard time reaching for all those commonly-used letters that used to be right underneath them.
So far it's not helping out with my right forearm — all this laborious conscious thinking about the correct motions is leaving it as tired as ever. It may be that I'll just have to ration my typing, like a normal repeitive stress injury victim. If that's the case, maybe I'll switch back. But it probably won't be worth it, really.
But — if I was handing out advice to someone learning to type for the first time (how young on average would I have to catch them these days, I wonder?), I'd still absolutely recommend just skipping qwerty altogether. Go straight to Dvorak. It really is a better system, and I think anyone'd find it more sensible to learn and more efficient to use, starting from zero. And if enough people go for the gusto, then the visiting keyboard inconvenience will ultimately be a non-issue.
The Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor is my teaching software of choice, by the way. It works great.