Monday, February 28, 2011


The first thing I ever heard about Google's new keyboard was it's lack of a Caps Lock button. My response was instant and visceral. Years, wait, no, it’s decades, of inchoate anger and frustration suddenly came into focus. It hit me LIKE A TON OF BRICKS: I hate caps lock.

I do. I really do.

The caps lock button is a nearly useless imposition in almost exactly the wrong place on a keyboard.

Think about it. How often do you have to, or even want to, type something in all caps. And even when you’ve wanted to, did you really, after some reflection and hindsight, really want to. Or was it a juvenile outburst that ultimately detracted from what what you were trying to say. Like crying during a confrontation with your boss, or insulting someone’s mother during an argument (that’s not in any way related to the person’s mother).

Without the caps lock button, you would have had to hold down one of the shift buttons while typing each letter. That’s awkward. Appropriately awkward. Awkward enough that it forces you to think about the appropriateness of capitalizing every letter.

In this case, eliminating caps lock is like storing a rifle unloaded. Or counting to ten before replying.

And even if you could come up with a reason for having a caps lock button, why would it be right between two important and useful buttons like Shift and Tab; right where my little finger can tap it when I'm trying to capitalize a single letter (which serves a useful purpose) or tabbing (to indent or move to a different box in a form). How many times have I screwed up a log in because I accidentally hit caps lock and, as a result, typed my (hidden) password with lowercase and uppercase reversed.

Sure keyboards include a little LED to let you know that you've accidentally hit the caps lock button, but that's like building the Eiffel Tower so that you can put a red light on top of it so airplanes don't hit it.

No caps lock is an ingenious innovation. Sure it's nice to invent something new, but to accomplish something new by getting rid of something old, omnipresent and useless is a triumph of imagination. It's like Sherlock Holmes hearing the silence of the dog that didn't bark.

Not everybody is enthusiastic about living without caps lock. I listened to a Slate podcast with people complaining about it.

“We need capital letters,” one person said, as if Google were trying to ban capital letters altogether. I don’t believe that’s Google’s (note the G) intent or the effect of it’s action.

Want proof? I’m writing this on CR-48, using the very keyboard onto which Google ingeniusly eliminated caps lock. Note the capital letters at the beginning of sentences.

Capitalization can survive without caps lock. (Whether it can survive Twitter, instant messages, and Generation Y is a different issue).

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