Rhodri Marsden: Why the caps-lock key is the BANE of the typist


Precious keyboard real estate is being needlessly used up by various symbols and functions that most of us have no day-to-day need for, I thought to myself the other day. Although the actual words that emerged from my mouth were: "What is that thing, anyway?" as I gestured towards the § key on a Macintosh keyboard. It's been sitting there, in my peripheral vision, for around 20 years now, and I'd never even pressed it, except during those moments when I press every key out of a) sheer boredom, and b) the forlorn hope that if I do it in the right order then the computer will start dispensing used tenners. (It doesn't.) After typing the § symbol into Google and receiving no joy, I posed the question to the ever-reliable hive mind of Twitter. "I only ever saw that weird fish-hook thing in my Old English textbook," replied a chap called Sean, "so I'd say it means 'intense boredom'." It doesn't mean intense boredom, as it turns out, or fish-hook, but "section". And if I'd spent more time reading academic literature at university instead of pointlessly pursuing a student nurse called Hannah, I'd probably know that. I'd also know the precise function of ±, which shares a key with § and plays an equally hands-off role in my work and leisure activities. So why are they there?

Geeks are less bothered about § and ± as they are the caps lock key. Not only is it something that people generally hit by accident – the computing equivalent of an already badly bruised knee – it's disproportionately large, and sometimes even has a tiny light built into it. It's a hangover from an era when typewriters were colossal objects that could easily break toes when dropped, and to shift a carriage to repeatedly type capital letters required a hefty amount of mechanical power. When IBM brought out their much-loved Model M keyboard back in 1984 with the caps lock intact, that was that; no manufacturer dared remove it, despite campaigns orchestrated by people who should probably have been worrying about more important stuff. A Belgian chap, Pieter Hintjens, started a crusade to get rid of it at Capsoff.org back in 2006, urging supporters to rip them off keyboards and post them to him, where he'd presumably put them to a more noble use. He decried the "whole sub-industry in software programs" that had emerged to either remap them to something more useful (copy, paste, volume up) or disable it altogether (as I ended up doing).

The first laptop to run Google's Chrome operating system, however, finally dispenses with the accursed key, which had become something only really used by angry people arguing on the internet. Instead, the key now says "search". Which is unsurprising, it being Google; if Apple had designed it, it might well have said "buy iPod" or something. But perhaps this will usher in a new era of more progressive keyboard designs; let's banish from prominence archaic keys like "scroll lock", and those arrows pointing up and left, or down and right, and symbols such as ^, which presumably have some mathematical meaning but in teenage communication have come to represent a single raised eyebrow. Ditto the tilde and the pipe, which I use way less often than the hash and the degree symbol. In fact, just let us design our own keyboard layouts, conveniently ignoring the fact that this will plunge us into disorientated confusion whenever we have to use someone else's.


I consider myself a motivated, innovative and highly proactive problem solver. My extensive experience has seen me develop an impressive skill set, coupling entrepreneurial flair with my proven track record as a dynamic team player. There you go. Paste that into your LinkedIn profile and you will have incorporated the 10 most-used clichés on the site, as compiled and revealed last week by LinkedIn's press office. My own profile desperately tries to avoid such things, with my "specialities" listed as "vanquishing overlords, egg boiling, salary arbitration and shouting in disgust at the television", and "honors and aw-ards" mentioning my winning medal in the under-11s piano competition at the 1982 Watford Music Festival. Those with whom I'm linked in a "professional network" on LinkedIn will no doubt see a radical about-turn at the point in the future when I'm desperately seeking work. Whereupon I'll inevitably deploy those two sentences at the top of this paragraph, no matter how inaccurate they might be.

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Consultant / 1st Line Support

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As your knowledge grows you wil...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support and Sales Engineer - UC / M2M / IoT

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Cloud ...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk