keyboard Ekaterinburg 812.JPG(Cleaning a keyboard on the bank of the river Iset – Ekaterinburg, Siberia, 2012)

Today I came across a quote from the Observer (22 January 2017) – Research company Gartner reckons that by 2018, 30% of all interactions with devices will be voice-based, because people can speak up to four times faster than they can type, and the technology behind voice interaction is improving all the time. 

This doesn’t look right to me. I think we type faster than that. In my first job at the European Commission I was a speechwriter. I had to provide 100 words for each minute that the speech would last (120 for Commissioner Kinnock). By contrast I type at 40-45 words a minute (including thinking time).  Two or three times slower, not four times.

In French I type half as fast as in English (more thinking time). In Russian I type a thirtieth as fast (much more thinking time – the main reason – and a different keyboard).

When I write by hand I go two thirds as fast as when typing. I was sad when I found that out. I like writing with a fountain pen, on paper with a bit of resistance in it. But when you can, typing on a laptop seems to be the best way to write. It’s fast, and afterwards, it’s searchable.

I have one more quote about typing. It comes from a review by David Bromwich of “On Empson” by Michael Wood (New York Review of Books, 26 October 2017). In 1937-1939, William Empson taught English in the makeshift universities of China under siege… [W]hat they chiefly required was books, and “Empson, without saying anything, typed out Shakespeare’s Othello from memory”.

Linton's computer keyboard 613.JPG(My son’s old computer keyboard)

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Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

7 thoughts on “Typing”

  1. I think I’ve been often too much focussed on the speed of writing, reading or action and find myself increasingly appreciating a certain degree of slowness. A deliberate inertia can increase the energy content in communication. There are times when speed is good, others when slowness is better. I just wished we could still buy Remington travel typewriters. In their absence, let’s give up handwriting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like this idea of separation of slowness in creative writing and thinking, and speed in communication/policy content creation. I have actually acquired manual typewriter for the first, and keyboardless iPad for the latter.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There are though neural differences regarding outcome and memory depending on whether we write/type/keyboard. There’s research on how children learn differently and have different learning outcomes when learning using digital methods and using their hands to write/draw. Will be interesting to see if this evolves as we move away from handwriting more and more.
    I count 125 words for a minutes talking when I’m thinking how long will a presentation last, and not being a taught typist I think I probably only manage 30 words or so a minute – – – –


  3. I know this is not the point of your post, but I appreciate your honesty when recognising that writing in foreign languages takes you more “thinking time”. Having worked on EU Affairs for almost two decades as a Spanish-speaker, I’ve always considered this quite an unfair competitive advantage for English native speakers. It’s not only the (less) time you spend on writing (typing or hand-writen); it’s also the much less time you must wast…(er…USE, I mean) on understanding complex, technical documents which are -mostly, I’m not talking about Eur-Lex stuff- in your language. It’s also, fundamentally, the simple fact that you can master the nuances for being much more convincing -when writing speeches, emails or position papers- than your fellow non-native colleagues. I’m not complaining -such is life, after all we all get used-, just saying “imagine if your work speed would be halved”. Ah, l’Europe… 🙂


      1. Great quote from Mrs Tocarczuk, thanks Paul! It actually opens up a new perspective, I never thought of English native speakers that way – my perception was more of the jealous kind “oh those lucky bastards!” 🙂
        In any case I still feel it’s a wonderful gift, and not only work-wise – for every “stupidest possible song” there are plenty of Cohens, RadioHeads, etc.
        And as for Tocarczuk’s “special code” – well, we have the EU jargon for that, don’t we? I’ve seen many English speakers -coming from utside the Brussels bubble- reading EU documents and wondering “er… let me read it again, I’m not sure I got it”

        Liked by 1 person

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