Typing

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)

Published by

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.

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    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.

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  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 – – – –

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  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… 🙂

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      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”

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