Spotlight: In Praise of Caps Lock

Craig Hockenberry
1 March, 2011
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Google’s announcement of the charmingly named CR-48 netbook contained a curious bit of news: Its keyboard doesn’t follow the layout we all know and love. The familiar Caps Lock key no longer rests comfortably on the left edge of the keyboard. In its place is a key with a magnifying-glass icon, which (logically enough, given the vendor and the icon) is for initiating searches.

Unless you’re me, or one of the people who for some reason follow me on Twitter, this might seem like a fairly irrelevant development. But you’d understand why I think it’s so serious if you knew about the split personality I have developed online over the past couple of years.

My alter ego—aka CHOCK—knows everything about everything, or at least thinks he does. And this know-it-all only speaks in capital letters, with sketchy spelling and punctuation. Naturally, he uses the Caps Lock key, which he calls the CHOCKLOCK, a lot.

HEY DONT FORGET TO TELL THEM I INVENTED THE CHOCKLOCK AND ONLY LOSERS CALL IT THE CAPS LOCK WHATEVER THE BLEEP THAT MEANS

(Not only is he upset about the news from Google, he’s not particularly happy about being edited for a family-friendly publication.)

It helps to know that the CHOCK “experimented” a lot in the sixties and then learned to program on an IBM mainframe. Let’s just say he has a unique perspective on today’s technol- ogy. He and I don’t share much in common, but there is one thing we both love: the keyboard on our computers.

THOSE CHEAPSKATES AT MACWORLD ARE GETTING TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE I WANT MY CUT

Messing with History

The keyboards we use to interact with our computers have a long history. The original QWERTY layout was designed by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1873. It wasn’t until five years later, after the manufacturing rights were sold to E. Remington and Sons, that keyboards enabled typists to use both upper- and lowercase letters, via a Shift key. In the early part of the 20th century, the precur- sor to the Caps Lock—then called a Shift Lock—was introduced. Its noble purpose: to alleviate pinky fatigue.

Now, 100 years later, Google is messing with that illustrious history.

THATS WHAT I LIKE TO HEAR GUNS AND KEYBOARDS HAVE A LOT IN COMMON

It might seem that Google is doing users a favor with this change: Replacing a key seldom used with one that’s linked to one of the Internet’s most common activities. Pressing a single key to initiate

What’s next: a keyboard without the 1, Control, and Escape keys?

Web searches sure seems like it would be a great thing—especially to bigwigs in Mountain View who have figured out that this button could increase their revenues from search-based ad revenue?

GIMINY CHRISTMAS DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THESE SILLY CON VALLEY NUT JOBS

A Key with Character

But I think the CAPS LOCK has never been more relevant. It lets us goof off on our social networks. It gives us a chance to express excitement over our Internet discoveries: Do we really want to type omg instead of OMG? Think of all the time that we’d waste typing barbeque instead of BBQ. And as I’ve learned from CHOCK, these big letters have proven themselves to be a great vehicle for sounding serious, even when you’re not.

Could it be that Google is going to all the trouble and expense of developing the Chrome OS and its new netbook just to coopt this most vital instrument for our online creativity? What’s next for the search giant: a keyboard without the 1, Control, and Escape keys?

HOW AM I GOING TO BALANCE MY CHECKBOOK WITHOUT A NUM LOCK

Honestly, I don’t want to even consider a world without the Caps Lock key. Imagine an Internet without end-user license agreements, without virtual shouting matches, void of incomprehen- sible prose and TLAs*. And what are we going to do without a way to easily detect and ignore the most insightful com- ments on YouTube?

Maybe Google’s onto something here after all.

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