A Perfect Combination, the Keyboard and Mouse: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Say the word “keyboard” and people today almost invariably think “computer.” This is because today most people use a keyboard only in connection with a computer or computer-based devices (laptops, tablets, iPads, iPhones, etc.). The fact is, keyboards predate the computer and its derivatives by many centuries, being parts of specialized machines used for specialized purposes. However, public awareness of keyboards only began with the development of the first commercially successful typewriter in 1868.

The change in society wrought via the typewriter, of which keyboards were an integral part, was truly monumental. This is why the keyboard unquestionably deserves a place of honor on the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

How the Keyboard Changed Writing

A man enthuses to a friend, “I’ve just seen the most amazing thing. It’s a computer that doesn’t need a printer. It prints the text directly as you input it. It’s called a typewriter. Wow, will wonders never cease!”

This of course is nonsense; however, it illustrates a very important point. Many things we take for granted today are so integrated into our thinking that something older and more basic can appear to be remarkably serviceable because the thought of it never consciously entered our heads.

Here’s another example. Have you ever wondered why your computer (or typewriter) keyboard has such a strange arrangement of keys? There is a very good reason for it.

The invention of the first commercially successful typewriter is generally attributed to newspaper publisher and politician Christopher Latham Sholes (1819–1890). A journalist by trade Sholes recognized the need for a machine capable of producing text for publication significantly faster than pen and ink. In 1868, he devised such a machine, which was welcomed with open arms. However, it almost immediately showed an annoying weakness. Once journalists mastered the machine, their fingers flew across the keys too fast for the “typebars” to keep up. The typebar is the part of the key that strikes the paper to imprint a letter or symbol. As a consequence, the keys frequently jammed, which meant the typist had to stop and untangle the jammed typebars in order to proceed.

At the time, there was no easy mechanical solution to the problem, so Sholes looked at the layout of the keyboard instead. When he invented his typewriter, it was only natural to put the keys in alphabetical order. However, letters in a language are not used with equal frequency. For example, “a,” “b,” “I,”, “m,” “r,” etc. are employed much more often than “q,” “x,” “z,” etc.

According to conventional history, to avoid jams, the solution seemed to be to position groups of infrequently used letters close together and groups of frequently used letters farther apart.

At length, Sholes came up with the QWERTY arrangement, introduced in the early 1870s. QWERTY stands for the arrangement of the first six letters from left to right of the third row of keys from the top, i.e. the “home” row of keys where the typist’s fingers naturally rest. Other arrangements have been tried since the QWERTY arrangement was invented, some for special purposes, but none has been generally accepted. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Or is it? Recent research suggests this may be more fantasy than fact.

In an article published in Smithsonian Magazine in 2013, author Jimmy Stamp concluded that QWERTY was influenced more by the desires of telegraph operators than the general public. These professionals were seeking a keyboard that would allow them to translate the dots and dashes of Morse code in real time.

Stamp provides supportive evidence from an earlier paper authored by Kyoto University researchers Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka:

[Morse code] represents Z as “· · · ·” which is often confused with the digram SE, [Digram means two or more successive letters or symbols.] more frequently used than Z. Sometimes Morse receivers in the United States cannot determine whether Z or SE is applicable, especially in the first letter(s) of a word, before they receive following letters. Thus S ought to be placed nearby both Z and E on the keyboard for Morse receivers to type them quickly (by the same reason C ought to be placed nearby IE. But, in fact, C was more often confused with S) . . .

The speed of the Morse receiver should be equal to the Morse sender, of course. If Sholes really arranged the keyboard to slow down the operator, the operator became unable to catch up with the Morse sender. We don’t believe that Sholes had such a nonsense intention during his development of the Type-Writer.

While Sholes continued to experiment with his QWERTY keyboard, over the decades others in the field were experimenting with entirely different layouts. The most notable of these was the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, developed principally by August Dvorak, an educational psychologist and professor of education at the University of Washington in the 1930s. The Dvorak system was reportedly faster and more accurate than QWERTY, in part because it dramatically increases the number of words that can be typed using only the home row of keys. Research ultimately debunked this idea. While the Dvorak system still has its champions, it never gained enough of a following to overthrow King QWERTY.

But does QWERTY still reign supreme? And if so, for how long will it continue to do so?

In recent years, computer and tablet manufacturers have offered up another keyboard, KALQ. This is designed specifically for thumb-typing to better accommodate these smaller, carry-everywhere devices. The jury is still out on whether KALQ is more efficient than the venerable QWERTY layout. But an answer to the question should not be too far off in the future.

How the Keyboard Changed the World

The typewriter moved from the world of newspapers toward the general public in 1874 when it began to be mass-produced by E. Remington & Sons (yes, the firearms manufacturer) in Ilion, New York.

Once the typewriter traveled outside of the United States, to avoid jams the keyboard had to be adapted to the frequency of use of letters and letter pairs in other languages such as the accent circumflex in French, the umlaut in German, the tilde in Spanish, etc. These were developed based on the same principle of the frequency of letter use as in English. For example, the AZERTY arrangement is used for producing texts in French, QZERTY for texts in Italian, QWERTZ for texts in German, and so on.

Keyboards for producing texts in different languages must also take into account letters and symbols unique to each language such as:

  • ç, é, è in French
  • ä, ö, ü, ß in German
  • è, ê, ó, ò, â, ô, ø in Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish).

Then there are keyboards for languages that do not use Latin-based script, such as Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, etc. As well as keyboards for pictographic languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.

Based on Sholes’ mechanical typewriter, in 1872 a certain prolific inventor, Thomas Edison, built the first electric typewriter. However, it did not come into general use until three-quarters of a century later in the 1950s.

The next major development was the IBM Selectric electric typewriter introduced in 1961. The Selectric replaced the typebar for striking the paper with what was known as a “golf ball.” This was a metal ball engraved with all of the typewriter’s letters and symbols. When the typist touched a key on the keyboard, the ball instantly rotated to the corresponding letter or symbol (88 in all) and then struck the paper. This offered little new in the way of speed and comfort; however, it did offer the typist the ability to choose a variety of fonts and type sizes. It was only necessary to unclip the golf ball from the machine and replace it with another one having the different font or type size you wanted. On typebar electric typewriters, such variety was simply not possible. The Selectric quickly gained a major part of the typewriter market.

I very much remember my introduction to the electric typewriter in the early 1970s. Although in 1965 I had earned my degree in mathematics from UCLA, I had gone into technical communication. This meant I was constantly writing news releases, news articles, brochures, training manuals, industrial film scripts, etc. Sometimes I spent several days in a row doing nothing but writing, i.e. typing. Often, at the end of the day, my fingers were so strained from so much typing that I had the impression they were about to fall off.

Then my employer replaced my mechanical typewriter with an electric one. It was the difference between night and day. On a mechanical typewriter, all of the energy needed to make the typebar strike the paper comes from the typist’s fingers. On an electric typewriter, the typist barely touches the key. This light touch activates the typewriter’s internal machinery to move the typebar to strike the paper with hardly any effort on the part of the typist.

I had no previous experience with an electric typewriter, but I had heard they were much easier to use. However, my first experience with one terrified me. When I tried to type something, frequently a letter would repeat itself several times on the sheet of paper as if the keyboard had a mind of its own. I would start to write “cat,” but instead I got “caaaat.” I would start to write “information” but instead I got “informaaaaaation,” and so on.

For the first couple of days, I was literally afraid to touch the keyboard for fear that the malevolent genie that seemed to be living inside might have other embarrassing tricks up its sleeve. However, once I got used to “caressing” the keys rather than pounding them as on a mechanical typewriter, I quickly gained control. And I quickly began asking myself how I could have lived so many years without this miraculous device. My hands were no longer tired, even after typing nearly the whole day. Equally important, the keys hardly ever jammed.

How Computing Changed the Keyboard

We often talk about keyboards and computers as if they were a natural pairing. But this is far from the case. Like many things in life, in general (and in science and technology in particular), “natural pairings” are often the result of numerous intermediate, and perhaps seemingly unrelated, steps that suddenly coalesce into the obvious. This is how it was with the computer and the keyboard.

The first generation of electronic computers had very limited internal memory. The ENIAC (the early 1940s) for example used a plug-board (inspired by telephone operator plug boards) to specify the program that the machine would follow. Others, inspired by the Jacquard weaving loom (1804) and the later Hollerith tabulator (the1880s), put the program on cards and let the machine sequence through the cards. A few years later, when memory technology allowed computer developers to consider much larger memories, the von Neumann design (1945) specified enough memory so that the entire program could be read from cards (or paper tapes) before the machine was started. It then fetched instructions from the internal memory rather than an external card (or paper tape) reader, which of course was much faster. This is how the stored program computer got its start.

Once computers could store programs rather than requiring that they be input from outside each time a program would be used, the burning question became how best to access and activate the desired program. Numerous ideas were proposed and tested. The keyboard finally won out.

As might have been expected, this happened first among computer specialists. However, the idea of the computer and the keyboard being a “natural pairing” really took off only some years later when it was adopted by the general public.

While typewriters were widely used throughout the 1950s to the 1970s, computers were just beginning to emerge as a consumer-friendly product. In the late 1970s, Apple, Radio Shack, and Commodore all had the foresight to see the large market in computer keyboards and started manufacturing them for their computers. By 1981, IBM released its first PC (personal computer). The company equipped its PC with the Model M keyboard in 1986, which became wildly successful because it was so much easier to use than any of its predecessors. The only significant drawback was that the “Shift” and “Enter” keys were reportedly too small for the majority of users to comfortably manipulate. To deal with the objection, IBM made and sold “Keytop Expanders,” which fit over the Shift and Enter keys to increase their area.

A more recent development, related specifically to computers, is the virtual keyboard. Instead of being saddled with a physical keyboard, the user simply presses a button and a keyboard appears on the computer screen. When finished inputting, the user simply presses a button and the keyboard disappears, leaving the full screen available for other uses.

The virtual keyboard offers another important advantage over a physical keyboard. It allows several people to use the same computer for producing text in different languages. Remember, keyboards have different layouts to accommodate different languages. So if one user inputs in English, another in French, and another in German, three physical keyboards would be needed, plus the appropriate language software. With the virtual keyboard, it is only necessary to press a button to bring up the virtual keyboard in the desired language and then go to work.

The Age of Specialization

Once the keyboard became the sine qua non of computers, the types of keyboards for specialized purposes began to expand, so that today they is a keyboard available for virtually every taste and need.

Keyboards are typically grouped into two main classes: 1. basic and 2. extended. Within these two classes are many different types of keyboards offering a variety of features.

  • QWERTY keyboard

The most common of all the varieties, the QWERTY keyboard is designed to resemble old-fashioned typewriter keyboards. Generations have used the QWERTY keyboard, and most learn to type with this layout.

  • Wired keyboard

Wired keyboards are separate units attached with a USB cable. This allows a variety of keyboard types to be used with the same computer.

  • Wireless keyboards 

Similar to a wired keyboard, but use a Bluetooth connection or radio frequency instead of a cable.

  • Numeric keypads

Extension of a keyboard for those who work frequently with numbers and want to key them in with one hand.

  • Ergonomic keyboards

Keyboards designed to reduce repetitive injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Gaming keyboards

These keyboards designed for PC gamers are durable and offer and quick key response times.

  • Flexible keyboards

Similar to standard QWERTY keyboards, these keyboards are designed for portability. Flexible keyboards are usually made of silicon, so that can be rolled up and easily transported. 

  • Membrane keyboards

Keyboards are designed without any space between the individual keys, with the individual characters being outlined on a flat surface. The keys are significantly quieter than mechanical keyboards, significantly reducing the “click-clack” sound as the user is typing. They are also pressure-sensitive, taking “caressing” the keys rather than pounding them to a new level..

(For more detailed descriptions of the wide range of keyboards available, read “Types of Keyboards for Computers: How to Choose the Right On.”)

Given today’s speech recognition technology (SRT), some pundits would say the venerable physical keyboard, however specialized, is on its way out. With speech recognition technology, you simply speak and the computer transforms your vocal words into digital text. You can even correct as you go, i.e. if you see an error in something you have just said, you can immediately correct it by simply saying “correct” and then inserting the word or words you prefer.

Due to SRT, the use of keyboards for producing text is probably declining (I have no data on this), but I doubt they are destined for the junk heap. As a professional writer, I tend to “think with my fingers.” When producing a text (such as this one), I somehow feel that moving my fingers over the keyboard helps me organize my thoughts and better formulate my sentences. But perhaps I feel like this only because I have been doing it this way for more than 50 years. People who grow up with STR may feel no such impediment, and, in fact, may write even better because they are not distracted by what their fingers are doing.

Who knows? Only time will tell. It always does.

Enter the Mouse

Today the term “keyboard and mouse” is so universal that it might seem that someone purposely set out to design a mouse and pair it with the keyboard. However, the flow of history is rather more complicated, seldom moving in straight lines. It is therefore worth backing up for a moment to trace out just how the keyboard, which came first, got so tightly paired with the computer. 

As previously noted, the first computers used plugboards, punched cards, or punched paper tapes for loading programs and inputting data. None of these even remotely resembled a keyboard. Of course, the machines for punching cards or tapes used keyboards; however, because of technical impediments, it was not immediately obvious to attach the keyboard directly to the computer.

The evolutionary step that led to this landmark development was the teletype.

Teletypes (also called teleprinters) were developed to speed up international telegraphy, which used Morse Code to transmit messages. The teletype translated keystrokes into codes sent over the same channels, which upon receipt by the remote teletype printed out the corresponding characters. Teletypes came into common use in telegraphy and news distribution after 1890.  When the first computer time-sharing systems were built around 1960, it seemed obvious to the designers that teletypes could talk directly with the computer and there would be no need for card punch machines. In fact, the punches would not serve the requirement for direct interaction with the computer.

Text editors were among the first software on time-sharing computers. The first editors imitated how writers edited the paper coming from their teletypes, i.e. find the line that needed editing, position a cursor next to the text to be changed, and type in the new text. Thus, the concepts of line-at-a-time editing and cursors entered the lexicon of computers.

By the mid-1960s, graphics had progressed to the point where 2D (two-dimensional) images of the text of a single page. Text editors used keyboard commands to move the cursor to the desired line for correction. The line-at-a-time constraint disappeared. As you can imagine, the keyboard commands for moving the cursor and substituting text were complicated and clumsy. In 1968 when the first mouse was demonstrated, everyone instantly saw it as a breakthrough for directly using the computer screen, throwing off the shackles of cursor movements via keyboard commands.

Like just about everything else in computer science, or any other science for that matter, the ultimate success of the mouse depended on disparate other developments. In particular, the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) mode of producing documents appeared on the Xerox Alto system some six years later in 1974.

WYSIWYG was made possible by the increasing resolution of bit-mapped screens, allowing the computer to show images of completed pages.  The previous generation of screens only had enough resolution to show the text, but not the better fonts, formatting, or colors. Prior to this, writers had to annotate their text documents with “markup languages” to tell a final processor how to create a page for the printer. With the mouse, markup languages disappeared into the background and writers worked directly with the image of the final page.

The mouse not only facilitated on-screen editing of production-quality text. It also opened the way for invention of the desktop paradigm at Xerox PARC in the 1970s and 1980s, which represented files, folders, and other digital objects as icons on the screen and made “point and click” the common practice to tell the computer what work you wanted it to do.

Impact of the Mouse

Computers were around decades before the explosion of personal computers (towers, tablets), and other computer-like devices that are so much a part of modern life. These early computers were reserved largely for technical purposes and research. For example, the first true electronic computer known as ENIAC was built in 1946 and weighed almost 30 tons. No one was going to take that home with them!

By the end of the 1970s, computers had finally been reduced to a much more manageable size. However, they still had three major problems that kept them from being rapidly adopted by the general public—price, functionality, and ease of use.

Relative to average income, in the 1970s PCs (personal computers) were still quite expensive, but nevertheless within the reach of most people who might really have wanted one. However, few people really wanted one because they didn’t do very much that the average person would find of interest. Moreover, they were frustratingly difficult to use.

For example, most of the computer’s functions were controlled by keyboard commands. Thus, you had to type in most of the things you wanted the computer to do with no keyboard shortcuts. This was acceptable at the beginning when computers had very limited functionality, but as they became more powerful with more applications, the saturation point was quickly reached. What a computer could actually do and how it could be made to do it were in conflict.

The mouse reduced many complicated keyboard commands to point and click. It therefore significantly reduced the time and frustration of still having to do many things on the keyboard rather than simply pointing and clicking.

As noted previously, people who have never used a manual typewriter (my fingers still hurt at the thought). Likewise, people who have never used a computer without a mouse probably can’t imagine what an innovation it was when it came along in the mid-1960s. Aside from dramatically simplifying and speeding up basic operations, the mouse was also fundamental for permitting on-screen editing.

Remember the amazing ability of the IBM Selectronic electric typewriter to permit the changing of fonts, up to four of them by changing the printing ball of the typewriter. Four fonts, not just one as on a manual typewriter. Today, the number of fonts one can use is almost uncountable. Likewise, the sizes of the letters that can be used in each font, either singly or mixed and matched, boggles the mind. On my computer, they run eight all the way up to 96 points, i.e. from smallest to largest means multiplying the size by a factor of 12.

Then there is the palette of colors in which a document can be printed: black (of course), blue, grey, magenta, orange, purple, red, etc. All of which can be added simply by pointing and clicking.

This is a further reason why the mouse became important. Imagine if all these options were available, but adding them required numerous, complicated keystrokes. You simply wouldn’t use them.

As is usual in science and technology, a number of people contributed to the development of the mouse. However, the title of “fathers of the computer mouse” generally goes to Douglas Engelbart and Bill English working at the Stanford Research Institute in 1963. Their device was a square boxy thing with wheels at the bottom. They called it a mouse because the cord attached to the rear looked like a tail.

When personal computers for home use were introduced at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, the mouse rapidly became standard equipment. In those halcyon days, a computer without a mouse was as unwelcome as a kitchen with one.

Although a breakthrough development in the 1960s when it was invented, in modern times the mouse is increasingly showing a significant deficiency—it works well only with 2D interfaces. That’s fine for a conventional desktop operating system such as Windows or the Mac OS. However, for increasingly popular 3-D interfaces, it is a serious drawback.

To confront the problem, In 2014 Anh Nguyen and Amy Banic at the University of Wyoming invented the so-called “intelligent thimble” that lets the user interact directly with cyberspace in all three dimensions. They wanted to make the device as small and unobtrusive as possible so that it could be easily transported. They also wanted to make it as inexpensive as possible to put it into the hands of anyone who might need it.

Known as the 3DTouch, the device was a relatively unsophisticated combination of accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyroscopes. It was worn on the tip of a finger, such that the sensors would track the finger’s movements and then relay them to a connected controller. Because it can track a finger’s position in space, the 3DTouch lets users interact with on-screen objects by simply touching, poking, prodding, spinning, or flicking the objects.

Experiments are always underway to make the interface between the user and the computer as congenial as possible. But for me, like the transition from the mechanical typewriter to the electric typewriter, the introduction of the mouse helped make the computer a genuine, indispensable working tool. I and I imagine most others of my generation will mourn its passing.

Quotations About the Computer Keyboard and Mouse

You can often learn a lot about the impact of an invention on society by listening to what people have said about its evolution and integration into daily life. Here are a number of quotations about the keyboard and mouse to prove the point.

“On the keyboard of life, always keep one finger on the escape key.”—Scott Adams

“Is the destiny of the human species to sit back and play with our mouse and computer and imagine, fantasize?”—Buzz Aldrin

“Online, you can become much more than a reactive donor—you can become a proactive, strategic, collaborative philanthropist, improving your giving every day by tapping into the wealth of philanthropic resources available at the tap of a keyboard or the click of a mouse.”—Laura Arrilage-Andreesen

“Life is too sweet and too short to express our affection with just our thumbs. Touch is meant for more than a keyboard.”—Kristin Armstrong

“It has always been my ambition to die in harness with my head face down on a keyboard and my nose caught between two keys.”—Isaac Asimov

“I detest flying anywhere. Left to my own devices, I’d never leave my keyboard.”—Kage Baker 

“I deliberately keep myself apart from a lot of stuff. I don’t Tweet. I don’t go on Facebook. I don’t blog. And that’s largely because I spend my working life staring at a screen and hitting a keyboard. I am trying to cut down on that, not increase it.”—Ian Banks

“One of the saddest sights to me has always been a human at a keyboard doing something by hand that could be automated. It’s so sad but hilarious.”—Boris Beizer

“I’m not a natural storyteller. Put a keyboard in front of me and I’m fine, but stand me up in front of an audience and I’m actually quite shy and reserved.”—Bill Bryson

“Now I see that all relationships are virtual, even those that take place in person. Whether we use our bodies or a keyboard, it all comes down to two minds crying out from their solitude.”—Roger Ebert

“For the millions of us who live glued to computer keyboards at work and TV monitors at home, food may be more than entertainment. It may be the only sensual experience left.”—Barbara Ehrenreich

“The internet, I’m trying to point out, is a kooks’ paradise. Anybody with a keyboard and a modem can spread fear, loathing, and just plain asinine ideas among hundreds of thousands of people with the click of a button. Discouraging, but true.”—David F. Emery

“I don’t write directly on the computer because I don’t think well facing forward with fingers on the keyboard. I think better looking down holding a pen. And the concentration quotient of pen and paper is higher than when I’m moving words around on the screen.”—Joshua Ferris

“I often write in pencil on paper and then type them up later. It’s much quicker than using a keyboard.”—Catherine Fisher

“Every so often I’ll get an idea from a dream, but most of the time ideas come to me while I am toiling away at the keyboard just like every other writer.”—Jeaniene Frost

“Windows 2000 already contains features such as the human discipline component where the PC can send an electric shock through the keyboard if the human does something that does not please Windows.”—Bill Gates

“Everyone wants to be an ‘expert’ on social media and share their opinion behind the keyboard.”—Ashley Graham

“Actually, because of new technologies, my full studio is on my laptop. And I have a little keyboard in my bag. I can make everything I do come from my laptop. Even when I go to a big studio, all I do is plug in my laptops. That’s the way I do it.”—David Guetta

“To me there is no more depressing sight than a five-year-old staring at a screen, unsmiling, mouse in hand. Besides whatever dreadful things this prolonged exposure to screens is doing to their brains, computer games tend to be solitary affairs, and produce little laughter.”—Tom Hodgkinson

“I think sitting behind a keyboard can be a security blanket.”—Lia Ices

“Management and professional people hadn’t really used computers, hadn’t sat down at keyboards, until personal computers. Personal computers have a totally different feel.”—Mitch Kaper

“I definitely feel that my brain works differently, and words come out differently if I have a pencil in my hand rather than if I have a keyboard.”—Lilly King

“As a kid, I was always into art at the same time as computers, and eventually I realized I was making more interesting stuff with my keyboard than with my hands. I really enjoyed modifying computer games more than playing them, so that got me into programming.”—Aaron Kobin

“. . . but every person who does serious time with a keyboard is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood.”—Betsy Lerner

“Writing: It starts at the keyboard, and it ends at the far corners of the universe.”—Vincent Lowry

“Writing is not just the technical act of your fingers on the keyboard. Writing is living.”—Melissa Marr

My first week at Stanford, I bought a computer, and it was the first computer I ever owned. I had to be taught how to turn it on and even how to use a mouse, even though, for a lot of people, a mouse is very intuitive.”—Marissa Mayer

“Imagine you are writing an email. You are in front of the computer. You are operating the computer, clicking a mouse, and typing on a keyboard, but the message will be sent to a human over the internet. So you are working before the computer, but with a human behind the computer.”—Yukihiro Matsumoto

“I think that texting and driving is a 100 percent no-go. I think it should be banned everything because you cannot be focused on looking ahead, in the mirrors, and to type on a small keyboard and a smart screen.”—Allan McNish

“Software industry battles are fought by highly paid and out-of-shape nerds furiously pounding computer keyboards while they guzzle diet Coke. The stakes aren’t very dramatic: Life? Liberty? The pursuit of happiness? Nope, it’s about stock options.”—Nathan Myhrvold

“We think touch is short-term. The mouse and keyboard were stable for 25 years, but I think touch will be stable for 10 years. Post-touch will be stable for a really long time, longer than 25 years.”—Gabe Newell

“Something in the movement of fingers on the keyboard enhances thought. Fingers pull your thoughts forward. Fingers are in some way an extension of your brain, with a lot of cortex associations at their trigger. Get them going!”—Josip Novakovich

“I am all for cracking down on inappropriate digital behavior. Too often the connected world is an excuse for some coward hiding behind a keyboard to bully someone else.”—Tony Parsons

“In life . . . better that your computer mouse die . . . than your rabbit.”—Timothy Pina

“Even today no computer can understand language as well as a three-year-old or see as well as a mouse.”—Vilayanur S. Ramachandran

“Whenever I try to map things out they inevitably change. Which doesn’t mean I don’t map them out at all. I just try to embrace the better ideas that come along as my fingers fly around the keyboard mid-draft.”—Ransom Riggs

“It’s not easy to strap yourself down to a desk and bash on a keyboard when you know you can direct lots of films, because directing films is fun, and interactive, and gregarious. Writing isn’t.”—Guy Ritchie

A young imagination is bold, likes to make bigger leaps. It likes to, well, imagine that the dustbuster is a dinosaur; that the computer mouse is a hotrod; that the box is a cave; that the rawhide is a torch . . .  or a baton . . .  or something.”—Mo Rocca

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your finger jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs to when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”—Rainbow Rowell

“Beyond the hype, style, and speculation, the truth is that the iPad is really just another table device. A really big PDA, where a touchscreen does what a laptop’s keyboard used to do.”—Douglas Rushkoff

“Web sites are designed to keep young people from using the keyboard, except to enter in their parents’ credit card number.”—Douglas Rushkoff

“A mouse can be just as dangerous as a bullet or a bomb.”—Lamar S. Smith

Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination”—Ludwig Wittgenstein

“What I was proud of was that I used very few parts to build a computer that could actually speak words on a screen and type words on a keyboard and run programming languages that could play games. And I did this myself.”—Steve Wozniak


In preparing these extraordinary ordinary things essays, I frequently scour the internet looking for short jokes, poems, limericks, etc. to better illustrate some of the key points in the main text. My search for such things about the computer keyboard and mouse proved to be rather disappointing, turning up mainly silly, juvenile puns.

However, by chance, I came across a local community website that compiles jokes, many of which are reader submitted. One in particular, “New Proverbs for the New Millenium” caught my attention. These are not about the keyboard or the mouse in particular but computer technology in general. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  • Home is where you hang your @.
  • The email of the species is more deadly than the mail.
  • A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.
  • You can’t teach a new mouse old clicks.
  • Great groups from little icons grow.
  • Speak softly and carry a cellular phone.
  • In some places, C:\ is the root of all directories.
  • Oh, what a tangled Website we weave when first we practice.
  • Pentium wise, pen and paper foolish.
  • The modem is the message.
  • Too many clicks spoil the browse.
  • The geek shall inherit the earth.
  • Don’t byte off more than you can view.
    • Fax is stranger than fiction.
  • What boots up, must come down.
  • Windows will never cease.
  • Virtual reality is its own reward.
  • Modulation in all things.
  • Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to use the Net and he won’t bother you for weeks.
  • There’s no place like your homepage.
  • He who laughs last . . . probably has a Mac!

For more clever, insightful looks at computing and computers, you can read more jokes here.