Fun gets it done.

July 8, 2009 | By | 13 Replies More

When I was in seventh grade, I got a C in my typing class. I could not apply myself to the dull Mavis Beacon exercises intended to impart perfect QWERTY precision. I hen-pecked my way through the course (badly), always sneaking spare minutes of games like Brick-Out whenever the instructor walked out of view. I found the class utterly miserable, and I did not learn how to type.

As can be seen, I am now an avid typist. Photo by Erika Price.

As can be seen, I am now an avid typist. Photo by Erika Price.

I now type proficiently and do not see the task as a chore. For the purpose of this writing, I pulled up a quick typing test and achieved a speed of 95 WPM- pretty decent. In the old Mavis Beacon days, I probably two-finger-typed a speed of 25 or 30 WPM. What magic instructive program brought me up to speed?

I learned how to type, really type in perfect QWERTY form by using America Online’s instant messenger. Not to bore the reader with the obvious, but these rascally gen-Y kids really love their internet-talk. I spent several hours per school night on AIM and Yahoo’s Instant Messenger as a teen, rotting my brain with inane discussions but sharpening my typing all the while.

I slowly evolved from two-finger pecking to using four fingers, then added my thumbs and so on until I naturally settled on the proscribed form. As so often occurs  in nature, the bottom-up, environment driven change beat out the attempt at a forced top-down one. No contrived course taught me to type: having fun while typing taught me to type.

I learned to use a computer by playing computer games, chatting with friends, and surfing the internet. The basic computer skills that older generations had to force upon themselves simply came naturally to those who played with technology all their lives. Age and neural plasticity is a factor, sure, but finding fun in a new task is also key. I’m sure computer gamers and frequent internet porn consumers also catch on to the changing technology with great speed.

I have often used fun diversions as a way to be productive. As a young kid I was also horribly inactive and uncoordinated, devoting more time to books than to tag or t-ball. I only got in shape when I discovered fun ways to move- in my case, kickboxing, cycling and swimming. Fun and games also played a huge factor: fitness video games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit and EA Sports Active are a heavy staple of my fitness regimen, and have been since high school. I only learned to appreciate physical health when it became an immediately rewarding experience.

I am a true believer in fun’s import in leading a productive and rewarding life. I’ve only achieved good grades when I’ve studied subjects that actually interest me. I’ve only been happy and successful with work that actually rewards me in an intrinsic way. Several times I have found myself slipping away from a pressing (but boring) paper to instead place great effort into writing for DI. Usually the spark that comes from having fun writing is enough to get both work and play done.

There is a thematic connection between this post and the XKCD comic I shared last week. Technology is often bemoaned as the harbringer of lazy thinking and slacking behavior. Video games raise obesity and promote violence, and instant messaging dismantles writing ability. Worst of all, the youth who sprout in the days of such inventions are empty, useless vessels. I feel compelled to rally against such anti-technology, anti-youth, anti-future thinking because my experience has been the exact opposite.


Category: American Culture, Athletics, computers, Entertainment, Human animals, Internet, Uncategorized, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (13)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika, you don't look grumpy while you type!

    Fascinating, that you could gravitate to the official approved QWERTY method. I assumed that you would have to take a course early on and get many of the habits right or else you might never break out of those bad habits. I have certainly seen many adults who peck with two fingers.

    Mark Tiedemann will correct me if I'm wrong but I think that the recent movie about him shows that Harlan Ellison is a two-finger typist despite having written hundreds of stories on various of his two-dozen Olympia typewriters!

    You do offer an explanation for why some people gravitate to the proper method–they do lots of keying, and it does make some logical and physiological sense.

    I'm curious: do you know many others from your generation who naturally evolved their typing skills, having started off using two fingers?

  2. Erika Price says:

    I look thoroughly un-grumpy because typing is just so much intrinsic fun, of course!

    To answer your question: my experience is that all of my peers honed their technical skills from scratch. I've watched a younger sibling blossom into a speedy little QWERTY typist, having never taken the typing course I was forced to attend. Everyone in my age bracket seems to have proper typing form, excellent speed, and can also navigate basic computer tasks without ever having any formal instruction.

    I attribute it to a few things. The neuroplasticity of a young brain has got to be a factor. Just as the young can pick up languages more quickly, they can probably also adjust to a new mode of movement. Also, online chatting is a very rapid-fire process when one has multiple windows open, or a heated argument in process. It lends itself to speed, and young typists adapt to the most efficient mode naturally.

    So, yes, I think my experience represents much of my generation and the upcoming one as well.

  3. Mindy Carney says:

    Agree fully, Erika. My girls both have/had "keyboarding" classes in elementary school, in the computer lab – but it is done with games and fun. My oldest, who will be a freshman in h.s. this year, had a computer class last semester in which she was forced to deal with the dreaded Mavis Beacon. I'd never even heard of that, but she HATED it. She is a proficient QWERTY typist, for exactly the reason you are – she uses her computer constantly! She types fast and accurately, until she's forced to do a "lesson," then she devolves into the 25-30 wpm range and gets extremely frustrated.

    My soon to be 5th grader, OTOH, who computes with games and projects at school but still uses it infrequently at home, can type QWERTY-style very well and is gaining speed regularly. I'm trying to get her to email and write this summer so that she doesn't lose her skills, but I want it to be fun so that she enjoys it and learns more. My youngest attends the same school as Erich's do, and we've both raved about it on occasion; this is just one more reason I love it. They get it. My oldest's school is also wonderful, but the computer class left a bit to be desired . . .

  4. I learned to type in the days before PCs, on an enormous manual machine called a Remington Noiseless (it was not noiseless) that weighed about 25 or 30 lbs. I wanted to be a writer. I used this machine to start writing stories for submission (I knew they wouldn't take handwritten work) and by the time I took typing in high school (typing in grade school? What a concept!) I could rattle along at about 70 WPM on a manual—three, sometimes four fingers. What blew my typing instructor's mind was that I could sight-type that way, which was supposed to be impossible.

    I worked up to about 100 WPM when I got an IBM Selectric. I have no idea what my speed in now.

    But I agree, you learn something tedious by using it for something fun.

    (I did eventually learn the touch-typing QWERTY method, but it varies in usefulness for me.)

  5. Tony Coyle says:

    I learned to type on a manual — I wanted to take computing classes in college, and you 'needed' to type to program (back in the days of punch cards)

    I don't touch type – but I do type quickly./… I sucked at typing class (on an old clunky manual) and I'm essentially a six or seven finger typist. (pinky's rarely, thumbs occasionally)

    Depending on what I write — I can crank out notes 'live' in meetings – as fast as people can speak. I guess that's around 120 WPM, but I'd really have no idea. However – the 'quality' at that spead is prety lou!

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I too, took a typing class in high school, and was not very good at it. In my case this is partially due to a rare neurological problem that interferes with my manual coordination. The only thing that saved me in the class was that I was very good at setting up the tab stops.

    My younger son, who is 12 , is a relatively quick typist from playing with computers since he was 7. Last year, he took the schools computer literacy course, which consisted mainly of training the kids to use Microsoft software products, with no real emphasis on the true basics of computer literacy.

    Going into the class, he was already computer literate, and was annoyed by the marketing of a product through the public school system concept as I am.

    Yesterday he finished installing Linux on an old Apple Imac that we rescued from a dumpster. (Yep, I'm an open source guy that believes in "source recycling")

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    I had a typing class in 9th grade, on well-worn manuals. I developed a bone-crushing handshake on those machines. After that, I only typed (grudgingly) for final copy of papers. I preferred handwriting in a comfy chair, or up a tree, or such.

    In college, I had access to a home-brew word processor in a lab. I couldn't touch type because I had to enter all sorts of funky characters for fancy formatting, like mixed case (the original Apple ][ didn't have lower case).

    Once I graduated, most of my typing was computer language. Keyboards were evolving, so I had to look to find the tildes, carats, pounds, and so forth. Each brand seemed to have its own layout. It would have been an excellent time to switch to Dvorak from Qwerty. But no one wanted to retrain their secretaries. Therefore, we're stuck with this layout that is actually worse than alphabetical order.

    People tell me that I type unusually fast for someone who looks at the keyboard and uses apparently arbitrary fingers. I type faster than I can compose in most matters; fast enough.

    Every once in a while I tell myself that I will relearn my lost Junior High skill. But it never seems important enough. I typed part of this response without looking at my hands.

    Maybe I should practice on my Remington Noiseless. Or my 1917 Corona portable, or 1905 Oliver #3, or 1920's Underwood. But probably not my 1894 Smith #2 (that predated the shift key and has a double keyboard).

  8. Stacy Kennedy says:

    Erika, I'm with you wholeheartedly:

    "I feel compelled to rally against such anti-technology, anti-youth, anti-future thinking…"

    I assume too that computer literacy boosts the logical skills of you whippersnappers, but I know little of such things. I'm 50 years old; learned to touch-type just fine in high school, and am not at all clear on the concept of "browser" (that would be, like, a cow, right?)

  9. Erika Price says:

    Stacy: Thanks for the comment. I bet the majority of people are tacitly hopeful for the future and the technology that helps ring that future in. It's just temptingly easy to look at the bad examples, like the kids who set monthly texting records by taking their phone into the shower and behind the wheel of their car.

    But hey, you successfully navigated your way to this blog and were able to leave a comment properly- so your net skills can't be that bad, huh?

  10. Tim Hogan says:

    I took typing class instead of accounting in high school. Our typing teacher was my homeroom teacher and we all thought she was hot. I stunk as a typist and failed miserably. I had to take accounting my senior year in order to graduate. I had a catastrophic football injury and missed weeks of school and failed accounting (I still managed to graduate on time because classmates named Mike Harty and Richard Vieth, Jr. [who later changed his named to Erich] took pity on me and worked, with Mike's dad, to get me through).

    Still lacking technology genes, I plodded onward and until I moved to NYC and took a job there with a trade association, lacked typing skills beyond the "Christopher Columbus" method where I struck out for the Indies until I found the Keys. My employer gave me a choice, learn WordStar or WordPerfect at 45 wpm or I was fired. I took a Wordstar class, got up to 50 wpm, and have stayed there since (until Erich introduced me to Dragon Speak)! Naturally, no one even know what "WordStar" is now. AND, my first programming course involved using punch cards!

    My kids know more now about technology than I did until I was 40. I ask my 8 year old for help, frequently. Ben says to his friends; "Ask my mommie, my dad's no good with machines!"

    Erika, there's real hope for the coming generations, I see it in their nearly daily compassion for my personal lack of any technology genes.

  11. Danny says:

    Fun post… I learned to type over 40 WPM around age 13 by playing "Mario Teaches Typing" (yes, Mario from the iconic Super Mario Brothers franchise), another case in point.

  12. Dan Klarmann says:

    I'm afraid that this is all I know about Mario Bros:

    <object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

    Never touched the game

  13. Erich writes:—"Mark Tiedemann will correct me if I’m wrong but I think that the recent movie about him shows that Harlan Ellison is a two-finger typist despite having written hundreds of stories on various of his two-dozen Olympia typewriters!"

    That's correct. An amusing side note to that, a friend of mine had to assist Harlan once the first time at a convention Harlan did a "live chat" over the internet. Harlan couldn't figure out that there was no carriage return function, that the type just scrolled automatically to the next line. He kept hitting Enter and posting partial replies, cursing maniacally through the whole process.

    More seriously, choice of keyboard affects writing. Several years ago I had a conversation with the late SF writer Poul Anderson who said he had gone back to a typewriter after using a computer for years because he felt he had grown lazy and overblown. The typewriter, he claimed, forced him to self-edit more effectively. There was a change in his writing around that time from "padded" to a leaner prose style.

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