In defence of keyboards

Tablet computers worry me.

I strongly beleive that the tools we use shape both our behaviour and our opinions. There may be large individual variation in our reaction and some delay, but gradually and collectively opinions will shift to adapt to what is feasible with the set of tools we wield.

So, for example, mobile and smart phones have shifted everyday behaviour away from planning. Railroads transformed our perception of distance. Penicillin totally changed both our behaviour when infected and our view of illness in general. It seems that tablet sales is increasing partly at the expense of laptops. This means we exchange our fast-typing physical keyboards for cumbersome onscren ones. The keyboard being the primere tool for expressing complex opinions, this is - theoretically - cause for some concern.

I would not worry so much about disappearing keyboards if it was not for the signs that most computer users seem not to appreciate the importance of keyboards. I am continually amazed at how many users of stationary computers put up with horrible keyboards that are shipped with your typical desktop computer. This worries me because it seems probable that without good keyboards, will mean less talkback, less dialog and a more passive consumption of content. Gradually, as keyboards become less frequent, users will favour sites and services with more linking and less unrestrained navigation, leaving more room for middlemen to control what is and is not read.

One probable consequence is that photos and video recording becomes more frequent since most tablets have cameras. Video is much more difficult than text for computers to comprehend, which means that search engines will have a harder time providing useful answers.

I doubt that searching will lose its hegemony because of the shift to crappy onboard keyboards, but even its weakening may have large consequences for the shape of the Internet. This is not a claim that the apocalypse is coming. It may well be that most tablets mutate into Asus Transformers or that people decide that they don't want to live without keyboards and buy separate physical keyboards. In theory, speech transcription could rise to the challenge. Rather my purpose with this post is to raise awareness of the good keyboard and add an admonishment that you should be aware of how the tools you are wielding empower you as well as limit you. 

This post was written on a tablet.