Typing it the right way

Confession of a typing aficionado

How many of you use the word “Word document” more often than “text editor”? You are not alone: Most people do so. Who cares about it? I meant, you just type stuff on a Word document or maybe a Google Doc right? What is the different? Say that to the proud typing aficionado behind this text. I just attended a symposium on the Future of Text, and boys that is so relevant it is heart-breaking to see how many people don’t see it that way…

Joke asides (and more to come), learning to use Vim — the legendary text editor — has been one of the most valuable skill I picked up. It has totally rewired my brain. I don’t use “Delete” to delete words any more; I type “cw” (which stands for “[C]hange [W]ord”). That is just one of the magic. Using vim almost feels like using a hairsplitting knife to cut soft pancakes. It feels that good. Wandering around the Computer Science Lab in Tufts you will hear, Are you Vim or Emacs? They are two common text editors in the lab, and whenever you hear someone replies “Vim” you may start idolizing them right away: what a technical wizard…

I also learned to write in Markdown syntax, because you know what, pressing Ctrl+B to bold a word isn’t cool. You want to highlight the word as you go, not after it, because as you type, you know in real time what word deserves an emphasis. Doing the formatting after you are done typing is disrupting the flow of your train of thoughts, and that is not the best process.

It’s about separation of concern my friend, the endearing term that our Computer Science dudes and duchesses love to use when we want to make ourselves responsibly cool. Or to put it the meme way:

Geeky people love to chosoe or develop themselves a working environment that is personalized and dare I say the O word — “optimized”. It gives us — beware, tech term coming — “reliable access” to the mystical Zone that artists often dream of. We don’t pray to Divine inspiration that much; we kind of just create our own divinity.

Why should you care?

Well, why should you NOT care? This stuff matters, like the craftsman who prefers to use a sharpened tool. If you spend any significant portion of your time to write anything longer than chat messages, the tool really matter. Small inefficiencies over a long time add up (think about having a small legroom for a 1 hour flight vs a 15 hours one). One of my CS professors told me to learn touch-typing well, because when it comes to typing, text should flow smoothly from brain to screen; any interruption by the mental to physical interface (aka our fingers on the keyboard) should be minimized. Speaking of simple advice that changes my life ;)

Seeing inefficiency pains many of us CS people, which is why you see so many apps that aim to make a particular tiny part of your life like adding a quick note or creating shortcut 5% better. We love shortcuts not so much for its actual time-saving value but more for the dopamine in our brain that is released whenever we feel smart for cutting some corners and make life more efficient. I wrote in my college application essay about how much time I ironically wasted by browsing through the app market to find the best productivity apps. I’m still trying to get over the obsession with new tools. Having been in Silicon Valley for two summers, I have seen more than a fair share of the “tech to save the world” mentality, and I am too guilty of a lesser version of that mindset. I’d love to call myself “The Explorer who steps into a future and comes back to tell the world that this particular future isn’t quite worth it”.

If I sound too pretentious, thank you for the rapid feedback. That is exactly what I intended. I’m well aware of how exotic reading this feels like to people outside of our geeky sphere, and the only thing I can type is: “Welcome to our world. You will be more efficient that you ever dream of”.

Real p/s: this is an assignment I wrote for a class, Culture of Computing. It is nice to practice some humor ;)

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