The Solomon Scandals
The D.C. newspaper novel, the media,the Washington area, tech and other surrealism: David Rothman at large
Link between keyboard noise and good prose? How to find the clicky keyboard of your dreams—if that’s your thing

imageimage Might American newspapers and journalistic Web sites be too quiet these days?

Here I’m not talking about silence on Afghanistan or the budget deficit. I mean the rooms—the amount of noise or lack of it.

imageThe redone Washington Post newsroom, the one merging the print and Web sides, just might be too insurance-officey for HIldy Johnson or even Scandals’ protagonist, Jonathan Stone. And the inevitable question comes up. Do some people work better amid the clicketys-clicks? And if the others can’t stand the noise, should they be in the news business anyway? Is there a correlation between bright prose and genuine touch typing, with the accompanying acoustics? Or does it not matter in the least—since William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and the rest presumably didn’t make much of a racket with their pens? As a young court reporter Dickens actually was in news. Should the Post and other news organizations get the hint, ditch the computers and give out quill pens? I wonder how well optical character recognition works with longhand.

image image Of course, if you enjoy noise and you write or edit at home or have a private office, you needn’t labor in a Front Page-style newsroom. You can create own clicks with your own keyboard—a real keyboard, not just the rubber-hobbled variety that seems to have proliferated, perhaps as much or more for economic reasons rather than noise ones.

Either way, the same evil MBAs must be behind this conspiracy.

Sure enough, the mushy keyboards are said to come from China, making me wonder about productivity and business philosophy, not just the trade deficit. Five-dollar keyboards are cheaper up front. But might the sturdier, clickier variety help U.S. workers accomplish more in the long run?

When National Public Radio’s Martin Kaste and Robert Siegel updated America last year on the keyboard noise issue, some graying reporters and computer hackers must have yearned for their IBM Model Ms of yore—designed to appeal to old Selectric hands. Clickykeyboards.com specializes in actual Model M beauties and cousins, some of them even new. Best of all, although slowed by the Great Recession, a click revival has been underway at PCkeyboard.com, which sells new keyboards with key switches using buckling springs. I haven’t tried a hands-on, but from afar, the PCkeyboard offerings certainly tempt me.

Prices for the buckling spring keyboards apparently start at $69 at PCkeyboard.com—I might be overlooking some cheaper ones—and you can even find versions for Linux fans, or a $99 model with a mouse equivalent built in, a pointing stick.

I’ll tip off Dan Bloom, who suffers from a serious case of typestolgia. Clickykeyboards.com and PCKeyboard aren’t selling old manual keyboards, but Dan might still find their offerings to be the next best things. Needless to say, keyboard fiends will also want to try Craigslist and eBay.

The keyboard images: The ones at the left are of Model Ms and are respectively from BorgHunter and Spitfrog, via Wikipedia (and the keyboard with the cap removed is a French model). The $99 keyboard shown to the right, with the tiny pointing stick that you can barely see, appears in a PCkeyboard image.

What I use: My Dell Model AT 101W clicks when I type, although I doubt that the feel matches that of the Model M. I picked up the 101W for $5 and shipping—a one-of-a-kind deal. Someone else must like this one; I can recalling seeing the 101W advertised somewhere for $200.

Question of the moment: What would the Washington Post do if a reporter or editor there insisted on working with a clickety keyboard? Is it possible I’ve overlooked something? Could the Post’s high-tech newsroom have good enough noise-proofing to let Model M fans and their opposites write within a few yards of each other? Or is the Post at the point where people there only appreciate clicks of the mouse or Web kind? Could this actually be worse than the war between smokers and nonsmokers? Has the rubbery faction completely obliterated the opposition at the Post?

And the ultimate catastrophe: Will keyboards vanish entirely, given all the progress made in speech recognition and the advent of the keyboardless iPad? I’d hope not. I love my iPad for e-booking and Web-surfing; but without an optional keyboard, it is useless to me as a tool for serious writing. In fact, the iPad could stand some mouse capability as well.

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