This is a question that comes up on Quora from time to time, and I think it’s a fascinating study.

Why NOT put the letters of a typewriter in alphabetical order?

The most basic answer is that language does not work that way. Even though we might easily learn a keyboard that follows the alphabet, we couldn’t use it easily because when we are thinking of the next letter of a word, we are NOT thinking about where that letter is in the alphabet. So even though it is in some ways convenient to have B next to C next to D, those letters rarely follow each other in any word (except maybe ABRACADBRA).

We actually tried an alphabetical arrangement in Modality, but it just didn’t work. It was much too confusing. Over time, we remembered that an alphabetical arrangement is what to the old Speak & Spells we used to have when I was a kid. Those Speak & Spells were fine for learning language and spelling, but not for productivity.

Specifically, the idea of Qwerty, invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, was to evenly distribute left and right hand usage. This was meant to help prevent jamming of the keys on the old typewriters. Some people say that Qwerty was meant to slow us down, but I haven’t personally been able to verify that. I still wonder why a common letter like E should not be on home row but J should be, but that doesn’t mean that Qwerty was meant to slow us down.

In any event, an alphabetical arrangement really doesn’t work, and so something else that makes sense for fingers on keys really needs to come in. Qwerty has not only stood the test of time but has actually won in many typing competitions, so I have to concur that it is a solid system.

But whatever we use, alphabetical doesn’t really seem to help.



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