Saturday, February 05, 2011

Slippery slpoe:

Whether you touch-type or hunt and peck, or you’ve developed your own handy way to bang out text, you’ve probably thought about how to make efficient corrections. Suppose, for example, that somewhere in your text, you wish to change the word pleasuring to desiring. The efficient way for many people is to click-select the whole word and retype it. But why?

Both words end in ‘ring.’ Why do we have to retype those letters? Why not just move the cursor before the word, hit the delete key a few times, and type ‘desi?’

If you ponder this silly problem, you’ll notice many cases like that when you edit text. It’s often more natural to type a different six letter word than it is to correct the two internal letters that could perfect your correction. Can you reorder the wrong letters in a mistyped word like ‘slpoe’ faster than you can delete it and type ‘slope?’

Experimental psychologists have examined some closely related issues. Pianists can play fistfuls of rapid notes much faster than their brains can issue commands to play specific notes. Our brains seem to be able to stack up long chains of commands to our muscles that we then carry out with amazing rapidity. They key to these long chains of commands is a kind of “chunking.” We can most easily stack chains of actions if they are familiar, practiced sequences. So it can be easier for your brain to stack the commands to type a whole word that you’ve typed before, than to stack the commands to correct an unusual mistake.

But there’s a middle ground, and I find it fascinating to explore. Let’s take that misspelling, ‘slpoe.’ As your hands reach for the mouse and the keyboard, you’ve got a moment to rehearse all the actions you are about to perform to make the correction. Planning them in advance enables your brain to stack them for satisfyingly faster execution. Give it a try.
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