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Is your keyboard holding you back?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about computer keyboards. All of my creative output is transmitted through a computer keyboard. Don’t I deserve a really excellent one?

Worrisomely, as computers have gotten better, keyboards have gotten worse. Remember the affirming clicks of typewriters and older computer keyboards? All tactile and audio feedback has been engineered out of most modern keyboards. One reason is cost: PC makers compete on price, and keyboard switches are an easy place to cheap out. Another reason is that hardware makers increasingly design their products for consuming media, rather than creating it. Today you’re so used to the light, dull keyboards of modern machines you don’t realize how much they suck.

My last keyboard was a 2006 Apple model. It’s an adequate full-size keyboard, better than the mushy chicklets on Apple’s newer aluminum keyboards and notebooks. But it’s still not a keyboard I love. I wondered: Could I do better? I set off to find a good mechanical keyboard that clicked like the keyboards I remember from the 1990s.

You won’t find any keyboards like this at Staples, Best Buy or the Apple Store. However, I found a few companies listed online that sell old-school mechanical keyboards designed to work with today’s computers. CHERRY makes keyboards for business applications such as cash registers, and ships a few mechanical models for standard office use. A company called Matias will sell you a replica of the old and much-loved Apple Extended Keyboard for $150. A search on Amazon for “mechanical keyboard” returns a variety of clickety-clackity keyboards for modern PCs and Macs, including some slick models designed for gamers.

Eventually, I stumbled across a company called Unicomp, which builds keyboards to the same specs as the IBM keyboards of the 1980s and early 1990s. I settled on a Unicomp Spacesaver M keyboard. The Spacesaver M has exactly the same keys as the newest Apple keyboard, and it set me back about $100.

It’s simply fantastic.

When I clatter away on my new keyboard, I get to enjoy a physical connection between my hands, my writing, and my computer that I’d totally forgotten about. The faster I type, the louder the racket, as if my words have urgency and permanence. It’s the digital version of a heavy ball-point pen on good stationery.

If you sit at a desk all day and write or code, you deserve a better keyboard than the one that came with your computer. Invest in a good mechanical keyboard, or talk your boss into buying one for you. It’s worth it.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Copywriting, Television

One comment

  1. Until just recently, I worked on a big, heavy IBM keyboard bought in 1995. It made a lot of noise and sat on the desk like an anvil. Despite all the abuse (if you saw the keys after 14+ years of service, you’d get nauseous), it still works perfectly.

    I loved it.

    Still, I needed a couple of them (I like to standardize across my machines) and they aren’t available any more, so I tested a few and fell for a really affordable Rosewill “ergonomic” keyboard (about $17) and have to say I like the short travel keys. More letters for fewer miles.

    Some day we’ll move beyond keyboards (well, not someday soon), but until then, personal preference remains a fascinating thing.

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