Shift happens will tell the story of keyboards like no book ever before: 150 years of keys, from the early typewriters to the pixellated keyboards in our pockets. It’ll show the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the awkward, the forgotten, the gross, and the inspiring.
I want this to be a book about people: Frank McGurrin competing with Mae Orr during the Shift Wars of 1880s; Jef Raskin and Steve Jobs fighting over the future of computers a century later; young Mergenthaler sneaking into a clock tower dreaming of printing; Soviet agents listening to American embassy keystrokes; women pouring into offices eager to do more than typing and re-typing; dedicated collectors of 19th-century typewriters; people wanting to make the best mechanical keyboard today.
I want to fill the book with surprising connections and unintended consequences. What does Ctrl have to do with JFK’s assassination? The arrow keys with the Moon landing? The minus key with the miracle over the Hudson River? Why is Scroll Lock one of the most important keys on your keyboard? Was touch typing a fraud? Was Mr. Dvorak? QWERTY? Why was the worst keyboard ever made actually one of the best ones? Is the best one overrated?
Shift happens will have something for you whether you’re into vintage typewriters, classic clicky IBM keyboards, or modern mechanical wonders. Are you none of these? Get ready to become a keyboard nerd, and look at an everyday boring QWERTY slab with newfound respect.
Shift happens will be James Gleick’s The information meeting Neil MacGregor’s A history of the world in 100 objects, Keith Houston’s Shady characters — with a dash of Simon Garfield’s Just my type, and Mark Richards’s Core memory.
I can’t wait for you to read it.
I’m still working on the book. It should come out in 2022. If you are interested in progress and stories, read the past issues of the newsletter or sign up here: