Future Tense Transcript

Death to the Caps Lock key

This is Future Tense from American Public Media, I'm Jon Gordon.

Well the internet has given birth to an unlikely new grassroots campaign to eliminate a little-used key on computer keyboards. Thousands of people are backing an idea to get rid of caps lock, or exiling it to the keyboard countryside. The blogosphere is suddenly filled with strong opinions about the key that lets users type in all capital letters without having to hit the shift key first. People are saying the caps lock key is seldom used, and takes up valuable real-estate; that it encourages people to type in obnoxious all-capital letters, and can mess up password entries when it is accidentally depressed. It all started just two days ago, when Pieter Hintjens of Brussels Belgium created a newsgroup and blog calling for an end to caps lock.

Pieter: It's really been there for about 20 years since, IBM made an AT keyboard with caps lock where the control [key] used to be. People ignore it, but it's in an important position on the keyboard. It uses up space that should be given to something more useful.

So what do you think would be better, where the caps lock button is now?

Pieter: I would just move the control key back up, make the space bar slightly longer, put the caps lock up beside the num lock and scroll lock. All kinds of strange keys no one really uses a lot any more.

This bothered you, and so you created a Google group and a web log, and probably didn't expect a lot to happen from it. What has been the reaction from the internet public?

Pieter: The reaction has been quite amazing actually, I never expected people to get so passionate about something quite inane, actually. People who don't like the caps lock really don't like it, and people who like it really love it, and most people are just thinking what is this key, why is it there? But I think the campaign is not really about just the caps lock, its more about taking control about something quite important. We all use keyboards, and the keyboard design is really old-fashioned, and it's not changed in any good way for a long time. We have lots of strange keys being added in, people hate the Windows key, they hate the num lock key, and I think a lot of people want to get their voice in and say, we use these keyboards and we want some influence to how they are designed.

What chances do you give of your campaign succeeding?

Pieter: Oh, none at all, of course [laughs]. Actually, people are getting involved and I'm not doing very much. People are designing logos, and starting IRC channels, and it's been posted on so many blogs. If people do care, than this is a chance to organize and make things happen.

What has this experience told you about the power of the internet to bring people together?

Pieter: It's clearly a very powerful tool. The campaign is a little bit of an excuse to see how people rally around a fairly black-and-white subject and turn it into a real thing. And to be honest, it's been interesting so far, much faster than I expected.

Yeah, it's just a matter of a day or so and this thing really took off, right?

Pieter: Yeah, a lot of suppressed hostility, I would say. Some people really, really hate their caps lock keys.

Pieter Hintjens is a tech company executive from Brussels. This is Future Tense, I'm Jon Gordon.

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