Should touch typing be like learning to drive?

The Stringer family of Melbourne’s Sunburnt Suburbia web site suggests Australian’s should be able to touch type:

In Australia, more than 90% of adults have a driver’s licence. To function effectively in the community you need one. As we attempt to become a knowledge-based economy, I think that the majority of Australians should also be able to touch type.

Maybe.

I learnt to touch type as a trainee journalist long before I ever met a computer keyboard (on a real typewriter). I’ve found it an useful skill. However, I don’t presume to tell people they should to be able to do the same – that’s a decision they can make for themselves.

There are alternatives. If you don’t like typing you can always buy a tablet computer and use a pen to input information. The first generation tablets were unimpressive, but I’ve seen recent models that do a great job of turning electronic script into text. Of course, pen computing is not for everyone. My handwriting isn’t up to scratch – I suspect I’m not alone.

A more high-tech approach is to use voice recognition software. Like handwriting recognition, voice input has improved greatly in recent years and many people swear by it. The technology is particularly popular with disabled people and those who have developed repetitive strain injuries or similar ailments. Voice recognition companies claim 99 percent accuracy, in practice it takes a bit of getting used to and a little patience.

As an aside, I first saw voice recognition demonstrated on a microcomputer (kids, ask your parents) in 1981. At the time a sales critter confided to me that the technology was just two years away from mainstream adoption. Voice has been just two years away from the mainstream ever since.

The whole idea of touch typing being an essential future skill is built around the assumption that tomorrow’s computers will be like today’s desktops and laptops. I’m not suggesting these are about to disappear, but for many people iPhones, Blackberries and similar smart phones are replacing conventional computers. Perhaps texting, Blackberry thumb typing or even picking out words on the iPhone‘s virtual keyboard is the real key to being a future knowledge worker.

Touch typing is a valuable skill that will serve you for some time, but I’m not convinced that having more touch typists is the key to building a knowledge economy. Interesting idea though.

Sunburnt Suburbia: Touch typing should be like learning to drive