We’re each born without skills.
We don’t know how to play the piano, hit a tennis ball, type a letter, program a computer, balance a checkbook, climb a mountain, drive a car, wake surf, back up a semi-trailer, finish concrete, ride a bike, race a motorcycle, fix an engine, pilot an airplane, or just about anything else.
Fortunately, humans are learning machines. Watch a toddler for even a few minutes and you’ll see an aggressive and insatiable quest to imitate, experiment, test limits, check for patterns, see what works, see what parents allow, and see what happens when they push certain buttons (real and metaphorical). Amazingly, they’re doing these things before they can walk or talk.
Toddlers also have an almost unending desire to “do it again.” If throwing the ball once is fun, it’s even more fun to go pick it up and throw it again, and again, and again.
I took a typing class in my freshman year of high school. There were about fifty students in the class. Half of the typewriters were electric (the new IBM Selectrics) and the other half was manual typewriters. Yes, I’m that old.
I started my year on a manual typewriter (we swapped to the Selectrics mid-year). This meant that at the end of each line, after hearing the ding, I had to reach up and manually return the carriage…and place my fingers back on the correct keys to continue typing. It also meant that my keystrokes had to be smooth, consistent and well-timed. Otherwise, the keys would jam on top of each other.
We started with the Home row. I must have typed ASDFJKL; a thousand times! Then, we added the G and the H to the home row drill. ASDFGHJKL; Again. Again. Again. Ding. Manual carriage return.
Did I mention that all the keys on the typewriters were blank? We were learning how to be “touch” typists. Looking at the keys was not an option. We had diagrams and workbooks that showed us what each key was, but nothing on the typewriter.
After mastering the Home row, we moved up to the QWERTY row. The row that gives the standard keyboard its name. QWERTYUIOP Again. Again. Again. Again.
Next, the drills included the Home row and the QWERTY row at the same time. We were typing letters in random order from both rows. QPJHFDRT Again. Again. Again. Ding. Manual carriage return.
Finally, we moved to the dreaded bottom row. ZXCVBNM,. I hated the Z. The Z is in an awkward spot. It requires pinky strength and dexterity in the left hand. A tall order for a right-hander. A right-hander who had broken his left pinky a few years earlier (another long story).
Now our drills included all three rows, and all in random order.
Oh yeah, every drill was being timed. We started and stopped each drill as a class and typed the drills until we heard the ringing of the clock.
The drills got harder, included more randomness, and both upper-, and lower-case letters. Again. Again. Again.
I don’t remember how many weeks we spent on all these drills, but one day our teacher told us we’d be typing actual sentences. One more thing: our typing speed would be measured in words-per-minute.
Any mistakes would subtract one word from our score, so accuracy mattered.
How could this be? We’d never typed sentences before. We weren’t ready to be tested…on real sentences. We were just getting good at the drills. We had practiced proper hand position, proper finger curl, proper posture. But, this was uncharted territory.
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”
“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”
Why do I remember these two sentences? They’re classic typing drill sentences. They each use almost all the letters in the alphabet and require the typist to jump between all the rows. I typed these two sentences continuously during the day of our first typing test.
I realized I was actually typing! Not just a drill, but two real sentences. I was typing them quickly…even on a manual typewriter.
After that first day of testing, we typed many more sentences. We learned about the structure of various business letter formats. We typed information into practice forms. We keyed numbers into columns. We centered text. All before spreadsheets or word processors made these simple tasks.
Our teacher provided the drills, the structure, and the discipline. We drilled, practiced, and drilled again. And, again.
We were touch typists, using the skills we learned through repetition. I was having my own “Wax on…wax off,” moment before Karate Kid was a movie.
Fast forward 35 years. I’m still learning new skills. Practicing. Making mistakes. Sometimes pushing too hard. Sometimes jamming my keys in the process. Always looking to improve.
Only with repetition can I learn, improve, and become.
Again. And, again.
Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash