Sunday, June 9, 2013

Typing, A Skill or What?

In her classic style Frances Woolley has written a somewhat interesting piece regarding the fine art of typing. She poses the issue as follows:

Learning how to touch-type is a classic example of a human capital investment. It requires hours of practice, but there is a big productivity pay-off. When typing becomes a purely automatic process, when there is no need to ever even glance at the keyboard or think about which key to use, the writer is free to concentrate on writing - something called cognitive automaticity. A person who can type quickly can get things done rapidly and efficiently. I can answer emails, write memos or accomplish other routine tasks faster than most economists, because I can type quickly. Moreover, learning good posture at the keyboard has health benefits, because it reduces the risk of repetitive strain injury. So why isn't typing taught in school? Why doesn't every student graduate from high school knowing the the best way to use a keyboard? Why do schools no longer offer the kind of intensive training in typing that is needed to become a highly proficient typist, working consistently at 80 word per minute or more? I don't know, but I have theories. 

Now I never learned to type. I use two fingers and somehow still manage to get out well over 500,000 words per year. In fact my hand writing is so poor that I could finally practice Medicine. But to comment on Frances; to what Frances was getting at, let me add an additional dimension.

Back in the 60s when I was doing my theses and drafts of my first books, I wrote everything in longhand on yellow pads and in pencil. I still have the first draft of the first book. The sweat stains from un-air-conditioned offices are still on the paper. When I wrote then I wrote with the typist in mind, for the typist was a true barrier to thought. I could not type, yes a little, but not as I do today. So I wrote in a rigid and final form. I had to be certain that what I wrote was the way it would be in final form because I dreaded the typists, they really hated doing draft after draft. It was the end of the 60s and liberation of all types was exploding, except for those of use who hated typewriters.

With computers and word processors I can now type everything, and retype, cut and paste, insert images, graphs, and best of all equations, I really love equations, I have not had a secretary since 1990. My folks tried to get me one once but for various reasons the secretary lasted three days and I was not even on this continent.

But I really think differently when I type, I have no fear of a typist, I can make changes, I can edit, add, cut and paste and integrate with images. In fact I now actually must type to think! That is a change. I cannot even create unless I put it to "paper", in a computer sense.

Frances continues:

When it comes right down to it, typing is manual labour. There is a fast way of doing it - the classic "home row" method. Self-taught typists can achieve good speeds - 50, 60 wpm - but not the ultra-fast speeds of a typist using the classic method . Creative and original approaches are generally sub-optimal. Yet telling students "your method is wrong" goes against the grain for teachers who want to encourage students to discover, explore, and work things out on their own.

Not really. To refer to Heidegger typing is at hand, it is the taking of the idea and explaining it in a linear manner. Back in 1990 I wrote a paper on Multimedia Communications where I said: 

In the development of a theory for design of computer systems involving the human user, Winograd and Flores invoke the theories of the German Philosopher, Heidegger. Specifically they refer to four key propositions of the philosopher that impact the overall end user interface issue in the multimedia environment. These are:

1. Our implicit beliefs and Assumptions cannot be made explicit. We all too often may make the statement, "You know what I mean." In so doing we are creating to mistakes. First, the other may never know what we mean just by the nature in which we individually perceive experiences and objects. Second, we may, ourselves, not have the insight to our own true beliefs, because we all too often find ourselves questioning them. Hermeneutics, the study of meaning in documents, has been expanded by Gadamer to investigate human reasoning. Thus, indicates Gadamer, our understandings  can change with the time and place. This changing makes the explicit articulation specious at best.

2. Practical understanding is more fundamental than detached theoretical understanding. Heidegger has a concept called "throwness", part of being-in-itself. We know something only by being thrown or involved in it. We know what a radiologist does with an image and how he manipulates it for understanding by doing the process ourselves. We cannot expect the user to detail their beliefs and in fact those understandings are time varying.

3. We do not relate to things primarily through having representations of them.We relate to things themselves. We do not relate to a representation. The representation to the "thing itself" is done in the context of the task to be accomplished. For example, teleconferencing is useful is we are not to relate to the person but to a subject whose essences can be presented directly through the medium, rather than just a representation. We find that teleconferencing is inadequate for personal contact since the contact is through a representation. 

4. Meaning is fundamentally social and cannot be reduced to the meaning giving activities of individual subjects.Meaning is obtained in dialog, in a conversational fashion, with the ability to meet consensus. Gadamer and Heidegger both relate meaning to the social process of communicating. Both also relate the evolution of meaning to the ongoing set of discourses. Specifically, social or conversational activity is the ultimate foundation of intelligibility. This means that both in the design process as well as in the operations process, the need is critical to have the communications channel be conversational if the intent is to convey intelligibility. If the intent is only to transfer predefined package from one point to the other them the conversationality is not essential. In a multimedia environment, intelligibility in the context of the various media and thus intelligibility demands conversationality.

Thus when we type, we become one with what we are typing, whether we have typing lessons or not. Typing is not manual labor, no more than writing notes, moving the paint brush, or slinging the hammer on marble. It is Hedeggerian thrownness wherein we become one with the work,