I’ve been a little surprised lately how much I’ve seen stories about typing in various media outlets. Computers and cell phones are so ubiquitous these days that putting the skill “touch typing” on your resume seems a bit outdated and self-congratulatory. After all, a skill is less desirable if everyone can do it. But wait, can everyone do it? This Monday morning’s commuter newspaper doesn’t think so. They claim Typing skills are not as ubiquitous as I would have assumed. They are not the first to imply this skill is taken for granted, as “two-finger typing” or “four-finger typing” are actually more common then using all of your fingers and not looking at your keyboard when you type. I don’t consider myself to be particularly good at typing or very fast either, but I certainly don’t use two fingers and neither does anyone I know.
Another article claims that schools do an inadequate job of teaching typing skills, and many women have been forced to learn touch typing secretly, afraid openly seeking to learn this skill would make them appear anti-feminist since touch-typing is so closely linked to “feminine” jobs (uh, EXCUSE ME?) and further if they DID learn to type they might become the dreaded cliche that is the secretary:
‘Can you touch-type?” It’s a simple question, but when I ask around, I am struck by how many women say they taught themselves in secret. Some former grammar-school girls over 35 have even told me that they were told not to learn at all – they were supposed to become executives with secretaries. The teaching of typing in schools remains haphazard. How did we end up with such an odd relationship with the instrument at the heart of most modern jobs and communication? Especially one that was a tool of female emancipation, offering women a respectable line of work in offices. – From “Typing – it’s complicated. Why do we have such a complicated relationship with keyboard skills?”
Clearly these women (although granted slightly older than I) were not forced to take the typing class I did in high school. Was my experience here with typing wholly unique? It was called, in I assumed a dreadfully awkward attempt to be current,”E-Literacy,” and it was REQUIRED. There was no gender bias here, only single minded pass or fail. I saw it as my one and only barrier to graduation, worse than the high school exit exam, worse, much worse. It claimed it would introduce me “to the touch-type system on the computer keyboard.” and familiarize me with the details of “Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, and Internet research.” I was mortified when I saw row after row of computers with keyboards covered by a black piece of plastic. I had to stick my hands under, inside this black box void of blind writing and form some association between what I couldn’t see my fingers doing and what suddenly appeared on the screen in front of me. The countdown clock started; I only had a few weeks of playing typing games before the teacher would stand behind me with her stopwatch and ensure that I could type at least 40 words per minute before I could pass the class. Punctuation, capitalization, and numbers included. I complained endlessly, yet couldn’t help but be impressed by the inch long painted fingernails protruding from my teacher’s hands that “slowed” her typing to 80 words per minute with perfect accuracy. Those were the days.
But this class I hated so passionately in high school was suddenly infinitely helpful when I landed my first job as Guest Services personnel at an amusement park. If you wanted to work in an office you had to pass the typing test. In this test I looked directly at a piece of paper and typed what I saw as fast as I could for a duration of time, then they tallied up my mistakes.
Who knew high school could be so practical? I look back and think that one stupid class has created a foundation for pretty much everything I do today, because I use a computer EVERY DAY. Good thing they made it mandatory or else I wouldn’t have considered it important enough to take. I wonder how many other high schools do this?
After that initial surge of typing tests, I never heard about it again. Now in my scienc-y job no one has asked me if I can type, asked me to demonstrate my typing skills, all simply assumed I could type just fine. In fact they assumed that I owned a laptop, and if that was true then I must be able to type, right? These days writing and typing are so closely related that I fear the pen will soon morph into a stylus. Writing itself is an undervalued commodity in my line of work, so much so that very few PhD training programs (now that I’ve looked a quite a few) include writing among the required classes of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. But then ironically publishing peer-reviewed papers and getting fund-able grants (all of which have to be written by somebody) is the direct currency of success in this business. Why then is there no required curriculum or ingrained training to tell young scientists how to write a good paper? Some programs teach grant writing, but it is far from standard. Learning to write scientific papers and grants is now my new goal, if only they taught me that in high school…