Intensity does not correlate to pervasiveness: An anecdote

I am pretty picky about my keyboards.

I use the Dvorak layout, which I’ve talked about before. I have spent a lot of money on hard-coded Dvorak keyboards. I’ve spent more on building my own Ergodox keyboard, plus burned many hours programming it with the layout I want. I have strong opinions on which switches I like, and I fully intend to experiment further with using different switches for different keys to further tune my board for my tastes. I research keycap profiles. Most people who ask me about keyboards or keyboard layouts start backing away slowly within a few seconds.

But in the realm of keyboard geekery, I am a piker. There is a whole universe of key switch preference, tweaking, lubricating, etc. that I’ve never touched.

So when I read one of the mechanical keyboard forums, I might begin to assume that everyone has pretty strong commitments to Dvorak vs. Colemak vs. Qwerty, or Cherry vs. Kailh vs. IBM buckling spring. I might become baffled that there aren’t whole aisles at my local Best Buy (or Walmart, even) with dozens of different keyboard configurations, since it’s obviously so popular a topic.

And I would be wrong to think that, tricked by my own biases and anecdotal experience. For most people, any keyboard that sends the right letter to the computer when they press a key is Good Enough. Are they missing out on a better, perhaps even healthier, computing experience? I think so. But it’s not up to me to expect them to think so, too.

I’ve been thinking about this as I see widespread confusion on my social media feed from Trump supporters convinced that a strong showing by Biden must be evidence of fraud, because no one went to any of his rallies. And Trump had huge rallies for weeks before the election. It just doesn’t make sense to them, so they spend a bunch of time talking to other people who are just as puzzled about the same thing for the same reasons. Then they compound the error by believing that since all of them reached the same conclusion, they must be right.

This isn’t a post about voting fraud or declaring who will (eventually) win the US presidency. It’s a reminder of how easy it is for all of us to project our enthusiasms and biases onto a larger population, and how, once we’ve done so, no amount of reason and logical discipline is going to give us good answers. Because our presuppositions have made getting to a valid solution (by which I mean one that accurately reflects the reality of the problem domain and works within it) pretty much impossible. To call back to an old computing acronym: GIGO

This is an easy trap to fall into during development as well. We all have our hobby-horses or preferred ways of doing things. We can point to those who agree with us, and possibly even demonstrate how what we’ve done has worked on past projects. That’s not a bad thing. But part of professionalism is knowing when to sacrifice what you like doing, even for good reason, versus dying on that hill. In a given situation, choosing the wrong action could get you fired. Choosing the right action could when it comes to that. But determining the right action is far more likely if you haven’t pretended that a significant portion of the problem you’re trying to solve doesn’t exist.

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