Just wrote the thirtieth chapter and crossed 200K words. Still on track to finish the first draft this year.
From The Power Broker to What If?, here’s a list of books that are inspiring my book. (Also, a nice reading list.) If you can think of another volume my book reminds you of – please, let me know!
I didn’t suspect a simple wall of sticky notes would end up meaning so much. I first did it just as a fun, non-digital way to come up with the list of chapters. And yet, once I finished and saw my book as a whole for the first time, I knew I would not tear it down any time soon:
The wall in February; each horizontal line is one chapter
It remains the only way for me to survey my book in its entirety – forty-something chapters, themes, patterns – without the details overwhelming me. Red sticky notes are emotions, blue ones are personal stories or interviews, deep yellow ones are for chapters with strong visuals. The wall’s also… physical. I like simply standing in front of all this, seeing new connections, moving things around. The ritual of replacing an orange sticky note with a pink one after finishing a chapter might be a favourite moment.
It was here, a few months ago, when I realized the book is really going to happen, right after reaching some arbitrary number of pink notes that felt like a critical mass.
The wall as it is today
Actually, wait, no. This is my favourite moment: Once or twice a week, a sticky note makes a run for it, falling to the floor with a quiet, distinctive whoosh. It always makes me smile, particularly when it happens at dead of night. Next morning, I pick up the runaway, find its original place, and stick it back to the wall. It’s a tiny physical manifestation of committing myself to the book a bit again – and in that moment I feel most like a writer.
What’s wrong with this keyboard? (What’s really wrong with it?) Email me if you think you know. I’ll share the answer next time, plus there will be a prize!
I was recently writing a chapter about ASCII art, emoticons, and semigraphics - basically creative uses of keyboards - and for fun I made a comparison of the first-ever emoji and the modern ones. (Also, I spent two hours typing in a portrait of Prince Charles. My right finger still has a bruise.)
In early 2010, my friend and I went on a date to Madison Square Garden to watch an NBA game. However, after one quarter of New York Knicks (her favourite) dominating Toronto Raptors (the team I was suddenly the most ardent fan of), we realized we’d rather just talk – and left the game to go to a restaurant. I had a then-new iPhone 3GS, she carried a work-assigned BlackBerry. We made fun of each other’s smartphone choices, as nerds do – and focused a lot on keyboards, as nerds used to do: BlackBerry’s was physical, but annoying; iPhone’s was flexible, but barely a keyboard.
At some point, mid-dinner, I was curious how the game was doing, so I went to Google to look it up. To our surprise, the score was now 80-something to 80-something. All the advantage Knicks once had was gone. It was now head to head, the winner changing every minute. We watched it towards the end – assuming you count refreshing a website every 10 seconds as watching. In the end, against all the early odds, the Raptors won:
Compared to that, the iPhone vs. BlackBerry battle was one-sided, brutal, and over sooner than anyone expected. And yet, even by 2014 there were still companies trying to make BlackBerry-like keyboards for the iPhone. One of them was Typo Keyboards, a keyboard case with the most unfortunate of names, backed by none other than the radio/TV personality Ryan Seacrest. This is what I’m using to type this newsletter.
It’s weird and unpleasant. It’s making my fingers sore. I’m two-thumbing it, and feel like I’m one Bluetooth headset away from being a Wall Street douchebro – Marcin Szkreli, if you will. But there are benefits: Typo actually responds to my fingers, it allows me to “touch type,” and it frees up a significant chunk of the screen. I can see learning to love it, if I had a chance. Except no chance was there to be had. BlackBerry sued Seacrest out of existence, and the keyboard was not to be, making typing on it today a rare experience.
It’s not the only exciting part. Typo Keyboard is fascinating as an in-betweener, like early cars pretending to be horse carriages, first home televisions masquerading as credenzas, or 1970’s word processors having a typewriter toggle. This here is the uncertain future dressed up as the comfortable past.
But this story is also a testament that we can give up a lot of what we once thought non-negotiable – if we get more in return. People loved their BlackBerry keyboards since they were a solid improvement over the regular texting on a shitty phone keypad. But the iPhone keyboard wasn’t better than BlackBerry’s. (TechCrunch wrote: “That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone.”) And yet we accepted it, because… well, because the whole computer-phone suddenly allowed each one of us to catch up with a basketball game in a small Manhattan restaurant.
(It’s a lesson Mr. Dvorak never learned, but that’s a whole different story.)
Jesse Vincent from keyboard.io for his hospitality, teaching me tons about keyboards, and lending me the Typo; Dag Spicer for his amazing help with researching Univac; and Jake Knapp for his great support.
This has been the second newsletter for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards. Thanks for being here! Read the first issue