Did Dvorak Die "A Bitter Man"?

by @edent | , , , , | 4 comments | Read ~795 times.

Yet more MSc yak-shaving.

I'm currently reading Melissa Schilling's book "Strategic management of technological innovation".

In a passage talking about customers' resistance to new inventions and the destruction of domain knowledge, it talks about the invention of the Dvorak keyboard. Supposedly better than the QWERTY keyboard - but ignored by the majority of customers.

August Dvorak is said to have died a bitter man, claiming, “I’m tired of trying to do something worthwhile for the human race. They simply don’t want to change!”

Is that true? The citation is maddeningly vague - as most citations are - saying only "Diamond, “The Curse of QWERTY.”"

Which Diamond? Dustin from Saved By The Bell? Which publication? Cat Fancier Quarterly?

A quick search found it on Wikiquote - albeit with a broken link. I found the original - a 1997 article by Jared Diamend.

August Dvorak died in 1975, a bitter man: I’m tired of trying to do something worthwhile for the human race, he complained. They simply don’t want to change!

Diamond doesn't list his sources. So it's off to Google books!

A search for a variation of that quote turned up 1972's Computers and People, Volume 21

Scan of an old document with the quote highlighted.

Annoyingly, Google only shows a snippet, so we can't see who the author was or if the article is entitled "Imaginary conversations I had with great inventors while I was out of my gourd on drugs."

I couldn't find it in any easily accessible archives. The British Library only has Volume 22 onwards

Luckily, my Twitter gang are excellent

Indeed! The journal was called something else for Volume 21. And Archive.org has a scan of the full magazine:

I called up Dr. August Dvorak, the inventor of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard for typewriters. This keyboard (called the DSK for short) is a scientific rearrangement of the letters on the typewriter key- board which allows efficient and speedy typing. (See Figure 1) When I called Dr. Dvorak, I was somewhat surprised to find out that I was talking with a bit- ter man : "I'm tired of trying to do something worth- while for the human race," he said. "They simply don't want to change!"

Robert Parkinson simply called up Dr Dvorak and interviewed him! The article "The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard: Forty Years of Frustration" was the result.

The interview took place in 1962. Dvorak died three years after this article was published. As his keyboard layout didn't gain any significant traction between 1962 and his death, I suspect his attitude didn't alter.

Isn't it nice when quotes are accurate! And isn't it frustrating when authors don't go back to the source?

4 thoughts on “Did Dvorak Die "A Bitter Man"?

  1. Merton Hale says:

    Fascinating. And like so many things on the internet, "read with caution."

    I also think I have seen studies that showed that his keyboard is NOT actually better/faster that a QWERTY. But then again, why sould I trust those studies?
    A few years back i was doing some very in depth research on how the human eye deals with moving images, like movies. after a lot of digging it became clear to me that there was some serious disagreements as to how movie film actually tricks the human eye it to seeing a series of still images as a smooth movie image. We obviously know that they do, but as to how it all works was still a subject of serious debate by serious people. Part of this caused by the fact that we don't deeply understand how our brain processes images.

  2. I switched to Dvorak many years ago and curiously measured my speed/accuracy. I only ever got as fast as on Qwerty, but learning Dvorak got me 20% faster on Qwerty without having used it for two years.

    Just as there are variants of of Qwerty that disagree about anything but the numbers and letters (special characters, language-specific letters, accent characters, and especially deaf keys), so there aren’t many standards beyond US Dvorak.

    The Norwegian Dvorak layout feels well-designed, but it requires effort to get it onto your system:


  3. Dave Cridland says:

    Incidentally, the QWERTY keyboard was not designed to slow typists down, as suggested in that article - it was designed to physically separate commonly used combinations of letters to avoid them jamming, allowing the typist to work considerably faster. Sholes designed QWERTY on the basis of requirements from James Densmore, who in turn had listened carefully to the extensive criticism from a stenographer, James Celphane. Sholes had initially got in a strop about it and ignored the critique.

    Sholes sold his patent outright for the impressive sum of $12k - about a quarter of a million in today's money; Densmore insisted on royalties for his share, gaining him about $1.5 million (around $20-$30 million in today's money).

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