I have devoted 30 years of my professional career to :
- teaching at the Department of Public Instruction (DIP) of the Canton of Geneva (lower and upper secondary),
- training and evaluating ski instructors and snow sports teachers at national level,
- have a career in the private sector as a :
- system engineer,
- system engineer in archiving solutions and electronic document management,
- sales manager and team leader for IT services,
- business control manager,
- compliance manager (compliance of commercial, administrative, financial and IT operations in companies).
I have been in contact with numerous multinational companies and SMEs in the private and public economic sector throughout Europe. This long and eclectic career has led me to make an alarming observation :
The number of people who do not have a good command of the keyboard is growing exponentially over the years !
How is it that today, the vast majority of people who know how to use a keyboard blindly, among active people, are 50 years old and more !
We are all equipped with the same abilities to retain information that is transmitted to us verbally or orally… those of our senses, cognitive abilities and coordination that we have :
- the ability to listen to perceive information;
- synapses, neurotransmitters, white matter and neurons to understand;
- memory to record;
- a culture to put into perspective,
- hands to coordinate the drawing of letters…
Now, all this mixed together, inscribed in a learning process and regular practice, should lead us to make this tool an ally of our office and professional comfort rather than a source of adversity with which to deal more or less easily…
Why do we observe the opposite?
As far as communication is concerned, manbeings have always used theirs voice as the first communication interface; the interactions between the average individual and his environment, were limited for a long time, and for the most part, to oral, verbal exchanges, completed later by handwriting and printing press until the end of the 19th century.
During the 20th century, with the emergence and intensive use of the typewriter, then the appearance of the computer and its word processors, handwriting was progressively supplanted by the use of the keyboard as a communication interface.
These interactions have further evolved over the last decades with the means of voice recording and broadcasting, recording images and films recording. Facing the emergence, then the multiplicity of these means, that we commonly call media, the interfaces that allow man to interact with his environment have certainly evolved but in a less spectacular way.
The human kind made use of firebrands at its beginnings, calamus, then of chalks, de charcoal pencils, pencils; it passed then to the ballpoint pens and to the felt-tip pens, then passed to the manual, electric, electronic keyboards, to the mouse and to the keyboards and touch screens. The electronic pen has also passed through, and we can now even replace it with our fingers by “swiping”.
“Swiping” comes from the expression “swipe card”, literally meaning “card that you slide”. By extension, it refers to a technology that allows you to slide your finger on a smartphone or tablet keyboard from one character to another, a sequence of characters that the associated program interprets by proposing the complete word or the desired expression, relying on a dictionary that it builds up in parallel with the input.
So we have gone from tracing tools to a typing tool, or a sliding tool…
The use of the keyboard has become over the years the most efficient, versatile, productive, and less tiring communication interface for producing text that can be distributed in written form. Although a little constraining at first, it offers advantages to no other comparable for the benefit of those who have invested in the ways to master it :
- speed in the production of the written word, even for large volumes;
- writing that does not require a lot of concentration to produce a clean and readable output;
- On-the-fly correction without erasures for all writing, syntactic and spelling errors;
We can say that it had its golden age until the end of the eighties, not that it was abandoned, far from it, but the way in which it is apprehended since then has completely changed.
Until then, the electronic office consisted of typewriters and télex auxquels sont venus se greffés peu à peu des écrans “verts”, dédiés à la saisies de données et à des programmes de traitements de textes, voire même à des systèmes complets dédiés aux traitements de textes.
“Green screens” ? Yes I know !… Today this expression in French language is not even part of the memory and the heritage of Google (too young that it is…), it is associated with vegetated anti-noise fences…
For the youngest among you… basically all those born at the end of the 70’s and after, you’ll have to type “green display” on uncle Google to get an idea of what it looked like… and you’ll still have to show some more motivation to scroll to find an image of this type :
Just imagine!… No icon to click on with the mouse since there were no mouse, no hypertext link to activate using the same method, no touchpad or touchscreen… only free text zones, lines of commands; the latter being also available in the margin with the only help of keyboard shortcuts in word processors… No online dictionary…
In other words, only people who could blind type were assigned to these tasks. Typing was a real profession (desk clerk, secretary, stenotypist…); the mastery of the keyboard was subject to a complete apprenticeship with requirements and performance evaluations in terms of speed and accuracy of typing… In other words, a form of prehistory !
Figure that with this way of doing things, it took half the time to type a full page letter and correctly formatted than today! (I bolded it on purpose…)
Roughly until the end of the eighties, what was called typing was taught to all profiles of students who had a business vocation. They were dedicated to professions where they were going to be the extension of those (more often men…) who dictated their texts, their mails (and their rules…).
That teaching has been (too) often coupled with that of shorthand, which is fallen into disuse since then…, a historically feminine connotation was conferred on its mastery, cataloguing and destining de facto these students to the secretarial professions… However, it was at that time that we could already observe the premises of today’s professional world. The only men who were familiar with the use of the keyboard were mainly developers; in fact, the first “geeks” or “no lifes”…
The first event that undermined the professional reputation of keyboard use, because it was one : the emergence of graphic screens and micro-computing with the prospect, very well “sold” by the industry, of easy and intuitive access (sic!) to everything that computing was beginning to offer; all this with the help of a graphic interface combined with a mouse. One could begin to imagine a world without the tedious learning of the keyboard, it became subsidiary… at the limit one could do without knowing how to read, it was enough to click on the good images… to transform any person into a perfect secretary.
I can’t forget that at the same period, the game devices with screens (very small) were entering the dance.
These beautiful perspectives put on the keyboards all the student youth of that time, with personal or private motivation. At the same time, the accessibility to computerized office automation was made possible, even imposed, to a good part of the employees, in particular in all the large companies. 10 years later, everyone, under the guise of owning a PC at home and benefiting from an e-mail address, has become by definition an informed user (sic) of office automation. That’s how long it took for academics who typed their thesis on a computer to start applying for management positions…
The business world, which is always very attentive, even the instigator of evolutions that go in its direction…, soon considered that mastering basic office automation functions was as natural for any self-respecting employee as mastering his mother tongue and dressing properly to go to work. Knowing how to use a keyboard became an individual initiative and a personal and private responsibility. The lobbies seemed to have lost interest in the issue of blind typing as a component of professional training. The private education sector has therefore gradually lost interest in the issue in favor of the technologies that emerged… Any form of similarity with what we live today is necessarily only fortuitous…
As a consequence of this evolution, the opportunities in the secretarial professions and the production of specialized documents have melted like snow in the sun… these are now and de facto part of the basic skills of any so-called active person.
More surprisingly, the world of public education has done the same and, in barely 10 years, whereas it would have been necessary to systematize the teaching and mastery of the keyboard from the youngest age in order to prepare and train future users for its universal and systematic use in the future, it has more or less been replaced by training in office automation programs… and even then, only in schools with a commercial vocation… a little bit like if your driver’s license was delivered to you directly after the theoretical exam…
As a result, in the professional world, classes after classes, we have seen the gradual emergence of employees who play with a maximum of 2, 4 or 6 of their fingers on their keyboard and must therefore perform visual gymnastics between their fingers, their keyboard, their screen and their sources all day long… These are all more than significant causes of tension and potential additional stress and fatigue, concentration requirements, frustrations, non-productive time devoted to mastering their interaction with the keyboard, while an employee spends on average more than half of his professional time typing in front of his screen, not to mention the private use he is led to make of it…
We can see that for people under 50 years old (and it will be no different for generations x.0 to come…), the smartphone has become a real plush toy, even replacing the use of a computer, including for tasks that used to be done on the computer since the dialogue with the Internet has moved from the PC keyboard to the touch screen type of interfaces with smartphones or tablets. The phase of getting used to the keyboard, which was done empirically by everyone until the early 2010s, has almost disappeared. It is almost no longer done on a personal basis as it was the case in the era of the personal computer. Its use has been supplanted by joysticks since a long time, by thumbs on touch screen, index or middle finger for the “swipe”.
As keyboarding is no longer taught, even though its use was becoming widespread, the ability to use a keyboard is no longer evaluated (unlike other professional skills such as languages…). The parallel is also true for the use of all innovative interactive technologies since the advent of graphic screens and office automation tools. In this respect, while it is required and expected of everyone to master office automation environments and tools, there are no evaluation requirements in this area to be hired… Everyone can put behind the word “mastery” everything… or nothing.
A lot is being discussed these days :
- the priority of learning foreign languages from the earliest grades;
- the deterioration of working conditions in both the public and private sectors;
- the need for better integration at all levels;
- the uncontrolled increase in health care costs;
- the origin of stress causes in our society;
Is it reasonable to let the entire active population become alienated because of a lack of awareness, preparation and training? Certainly not, it is urgent to remedy this next institutionalized societal disability problem : the failure to master blind typing with ten fingers.
Isn’t it shocking that the most widely used activity after the spoken and written use of one’s native language is relegated to the back burner of training and assessment priorities ?
There is a real political will to better integrate and manage differences and disabilities in what is called the “inclusive school”. However, paradoxically, there is a tendency, on this particular subject, to generalize a handicap that could easily be prevented for the physical, psychological, professional and economic well-being of all.
Is it not paradoxical to have to note that at the present time :
- the personnel in charge of human resources in companies,
- employment assistance organizations,
- employment agencies,
- personnel consultants,
- mentors and people active in coaching people,
- websites related to career development,
…expect us to be able to justify our educational levels by certificates, our knowledge of languages by tests and certifications, our professional background by evidences, but on our ability to use a keyboard properly ! Nothing… To the typical sentence: “Good command of office tools…” does not correspond anything tangible…
No study on the subject, and yet, I let you imagine what represents this operating mode repeated between 4 and 12 hours per day, at a rate of a correction every x keystrokes, and with each correction, a check of its contents on the screen, a control of the good key to retyped from the keyboard and the need to refocus on the source document after each back and forth… One thing is for sure, 100% of the people concerned would not want to work on a production line in a factory in this way. Any assembly line worker today has a much better ergonomic work environment than white collars… and a ergonomic position in front of the screen will not change that. We see generations of employees and managers (these are even more impacted…) being condemned to much worse daily, than working in a production line.
It is considered that a blind typist is able to type at a speed of 300 CPM (Characters Per Minute) or 50 MPM (Words Per Minute) with an error rate of between 3% and 5% for so-called commercial texts of between 700 and 750 characters in length (including punctuation, capitalization, values or numbers and some special characters) The text must be rendered accurately, so the performance evaluated includes the time spent correcting errors as they occur. These online testing programs block the progress indicator as long as the text is not hit according to the template. On this basis, this blog can be typed in just under an hour.
Typing this kind of text is not the most common exercise; only writers, editors and journalists do it regularly. Thinking is done in parallel with typing… and the latter, linked to corrections, proofreading and rephrasing, significantly diminishes the impact of a rough typing. In such a case, it is better to think well and quickly than to type quickly… However, 75% of our written output is more about volume than quality of text: e-mail, form letters… Based on the above example, a person who does not master blind typing would need 3 times more time to produce the equivalent.
Imagine that this same person is a smoker who has to satisfy this recurrent need outdoors… Doesn’t this make you wonder, at a time when under the guise of profitability and productivity, every wise manager, MBA certified, thinks first of firing people in order to reach so-called productivity objectives ?
At a time when everything is about performance, profitability, “auditability”, optimization, reorganization for profit maximization, competition or cost pressure, the main source of individual waste of energy and time is simply ignored…
I invite decision-makers to look at the facts and to consider the right questions…
There are solutions. They are simple, inexpensive and would be extremely effective if we would stop considering the use of the keyboard as a more or less accessory approach in a digital world.
At a time when there is a debate on the necessity of learning one or more foreign languages in early school years, there is not even a debate on the almost vital necessity of mastering the use of a keyboard. It has become a much broader problem than a simple concern for productivity; it is only the tip of the iceberg revealing a real societal problem beyond the public health aspects that it highlights.
It will be retorted that the voice will replace the fingers when it comes to data entry. The technology has allowed it for years and its use has not become widespread. Its use is limited to multimedia professions, and to certain professions or functions where its use is limited to the use of a dictaphone, to the transmission of decisions or to communication in telegraphic style… This lack of enthusiasm in professional circles can be explained for reasons related to :
- the ambient noise that dictation in open-plan offices would generate in addition to the rest;
- the complete lack of confidentiality linked to the use of speech in increasingly shared spaces (open space). This is one of the major pitfalls in the development of voice using peripherals connected to the outside world in the light of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While it is recognized that open spaces are not conducive to individual productivity, they will not be replaced by individualized workspaces for a long time to come : as long as the profitability of a square meter is much more easily measured than the productivity of a group at work;
- the impossibility of using them as note-taking devices in meetings or conferences;
This observation would not be alarming if the mastery of the keyboard were considered as a tool for the development of motor skills, coordination abilities and the faculties of concentration and learning in the youngest children, and as such, integrated into the primary school cycle. It is at that age, a playful tool in the same way as using the mouse on a graphic screen.
We can dismiss the necessity of learning and mastering blind typing as long as it is not identified for what it is and addressed as such with the consequences that we also measure in the framework of pandemic management for example : tactics, even if used for economic or political purposes, only bring short-term benefits to those who use them on the backs of the majority. In this field as in so many others, a little strategy would serve the interests of the majority.
Awaiting this next world, I wish you health, equilibrium and well-being through learning and openness to oneself.
Eric Christen – esSENSiel