Two-bit Column: Clickety-clack

Mar 2, 18 • 5enses, Two-bit ColumnNo Comments

The author. Courtesy photo.

By Justin Agrell

I remember how happy my friend was showing off the latest addition to his collection: a real life, honest-to-goodness, IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M is a rare keyboard in that it uses a spring that buckles outwardly creating a nice loud “thwack” on the inside of the key whenever it’s depressed. These types of mechanisms have become rare; modern keyboards simply use rubber and plastic to save money. Many computer industry veterans prefer the old loud actuation because it makes clear that the computer had received your input before the key bottomed out, giving you a slight speed advantage over those using the now-standard plastic- and rubber-backed keyboard. To say nothing of the classic clickety-clack sound that many relate to retro computing.

It’s easy to get into the habit of buying and using whatever models are readily available or on sale, but there are definitely times when researching your options and selecting something more in line with your preferences will make you happier. In fact, I believe a certain coffee shop chain has based its entire business model around that very idea. It pains me to know that there are many of you out there who have only typed an email on your phone’s touch screen. You have options; you have colors and switch types; you have the entire skill of touch-typing right at your fingertips.

So what about keyboards could possibly be so special to warrant spending extra time and money on one? The answer is feel. We’re simple creatures. We want to feel good and the tools we use every day are the first things we should improve. Simply replacing the keyboard on your computer is one of the most overlooked and easy-to-do options for a better life. From what I’ve seen, you can easily spot expensive mechanical keyboards in three places: in a PC gamer’s den, on a writer’s desk, and in a law office that still creates transcription. What do they all have in common? An unusually high usage rate of the keyboard interface. (And even though the gamer may not type as much as the writer or the transcriptionist, they’re usually far more up-to-date on the options available for an optimal computing experience.)

The IBM Model M Keyboard space Saver, circa 1987. Photo by Black Patterson, Creative Commons 2.0 via WikiMedia Commons.

The popularity of mechanical keyboards has grown so much that even big box stores now carry them. Their benefits are proven and are well-documented. (Editor’s note: This takes less than a minute to confirm.) So, this is where the fun begins. Due to the fact that many stores now offer mechanical keyboards to test out on the floor, there’s little excuse not to indulge yourself. You can try before you buy, which is of crucial importance when you’re buying something for feel. If you’re especially brave or already familiar with what kind of switch type is your favorite, go ahead and venture online to make your purchase. You want multi-colored and exchangeable keys? Done. You want loud clacks per click or, maybe, a more stealthy experience? Either one, done. Choosing and adorning your keyboard will bring you closer to your work, and I highly recommend it. The better actuation of the keys should even help improve your input speed, especially if you partake in the many typing games available to you.

As I sit here hacking away at my own modified keyboard to create this very column, I have no fewer than three different colored key sets. I’ve learned that I enjoy the Cherry MX Brown key switches since they have medium actuation but do not make a loud clicking noise (I like to hear my music) and my other keyboard is a bit more fun in that it has back-lit keys that are fully programmable. I can make the whole keyboard illuminate in a rainbow-spectrum’s dance of color or slowly pulse an ominous red. I know veteran nerds who’ve been genuinely impressed with specialized keyboards simply because they never knew how far we’ve come since the old Model M. If you find yourself behind a keyboard for many hours a day then perhaps it’s time for you to get out there and partake in the wonderful modern world of the mechanical keyboard. Be brave and, most importantly, have fun.


Justin Agrell has been a certified IT technician since 2005. He loves Linux, adventure motorcycling, and computer gaming. To get in touch, just email him at Justin@U4E.US.

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