As programmers, we tend to spend the greater part of our day typing characters on a screen using a regular keyboard. So what happens when a programmer gets hold of a touch screen device?
For me, it is quite difficult typing on a touchscreen device compared to the ease with which I type on a regular keyboard. On a typical computer keyboard, I type an average of 95-100 Words Per Minute (WPM). However, this speed is drastically reduced when I find myself having to use a touchscreen device such as an iPhone or an iPad. Just like Jeff Atwood put it, the minute I switch from a touchscreen device to a regular keyboard, I go from being Usain Bolt to The Flash. In fact, it is even easier for me to type on a phone with a tiny QWERTY keyboard than it is for me to type on an iPad or iPhone.
People who use touchscreen devices might testify to the fact that they tend to avoid having to create long strings of text and more often than not, leave their text compositions to the fate ascribed to them by whatever predictive text technology exists on the devices. Often, the predictive text system on a touchscreen device might not adequately produce words that relay the intended message. In fact, most people who use touchscreen devices are lazy typists and it is sometimes a pain to have to read (and understand) the text messages or other correspondence they produce.
So, really, what’s the problem with touch computing? iPads and iPhones are beautiful devices no doubt, and touchscreen devices have a vital role to play in computing. I do not hate the iPad. In fact, one wonderful thing about the iPad is the fact that it turns on instantly and does not have to go through any sort of complex boot sequence. However, devices like the iPad tend to turn us into voracious consumers of data and information rather than benevolent producers or creators of information.
On a mobile device with a QWERTY keyboard, I would probably create just as much data/information as I would consume. However, on an iPad I am very likely to consume data a whole lot more rapidly than I produce any, simply because of the way it is built. In fact, the iPad is so beautifully built without a keyboard that even if you originally intended to get some work done (especially if it involved creating large amounts of text), your mind is quickly changed once you get a grip of the device. Once you get your hands on such a device, you would probably just decide to play games, watch videos and passively surf the Internet instead. Furthermore, due to the lazy typing syndrome touchscreen devices tend to infect us with, our ability to create quality (text) content is often quite effectively hampered.
Scott Adams, in his blog, asked the following pertinent question and gave a probable answer which I found to be quite thought-provoking:
What happens when people become trained to think of information and entertainment as something they receive and not something they create? I think this could be a fork in the road for human evolution. Perhaps in a million years, humans will feel no conversational obligation to entertain or provide useful information.
I think we all need to sing the praises of the humble keyboard. Like Jeff Atwood said, the keyboard is “the device that, when combined with the internet, turns every human being into a highly efficient global printing press.” With the help of a full-sized keyboard, and the Internet, I have been able to create this blog post (in a matter of minutes) that can be viewed by anyone, anywhere. I have successfully become quite an efficient global printing press. I cannot even begin to imagine having to type this on a touchscreen device, whether an iPad, an iPhone or whatever.
For a programmer, it is absolutely important to be have superb typing skills. Jeff Atwood has said that “if you want to become a great programmer, start by becoming a great typist”. An obsession with touchscreen devices definitely would not help. I sincerely believe we are typists first, then programmers second. Being able to type, and how important it is to a programmer’s career would definitely be the subject of another blog article, probably the next.