Keyboarding As Sport

Sport is an armoured apparatus for coercion, an instrument
of bourgeois hegemony in a Gramscian sense, dominated by a
phallocratic and fascitoid idea of virility. It is mechanisation
of the body conceived as a robot, ruled by the principle
of productivity
– Jean-Marie Brohm

Ah, that good old French knack of expressing simple ideas in everyday language!
It’s not too hard to conclude that Jean-Marie was probably always at the back of the crowd rushing out of the classroom and into the changing room, is it? We can see the little lad all too clearly, the pale-faced one in glasses, squabbling with the likes of young Betjeman for the honour as to who truly has the greatest dread of games, as they march together beneath the banner of one of the great 20th Century oppositional movements – the right to just lie down and rest – with its resonant motto waving in the breeze:


At least, they might have marched beneath the banner if someone had been virile enough to make one – and if marching didn’t have its own unsavoury connotations of militaristic oppression … and physical activity.

Not for them the broken limbs, the bursitis, groin strains and knee surgery that are the increasing corollary of an active life. Nor the camaraderie of sharing magical reminiscences such as falling off one’s skateboard on the infamous pyramid of the ‘pro’ course at SPoT (the world-famous Skatepark in Tampa, Florida) or almost drowning after yet another wipe-out riding the big waves at Maverick’s in California or Jaws in Hawaii. Ah, the very names conjure memories of the rich romance and richer aromas of A&E departments around the world.

That said, Jean-Marie’s passionate defence of the ideology of indolence goes some way to illustrating the heady excitement engendered by …. well, not so much skateboarding or surfboarding as …. KEYBOARDING!

Just as some of the greatest effects and pleasures in jazz arise from extemporaneous riffs, so we see that a gifted exponent of keyboarding can create stunning moments of delight – though we should point out that Health and Safety regulations require that this notion of ‘the riff’ is not to be confused with long-haired musicians pounding on various electronic and other instruments, but references instead the explosion of textuality within the discourse of idleness as political rebellion.

In that spirit, it becomes clear just what the contribution of individuals like Jean-Marie can be, reminding us all that a world perceived through the lens of modern sociology offers not only increased sales of technical dictionaries but also the opportunity to marvel at the ability of a skilled practitioner to produce long strings of words seemingly without end, despite full stops and the occasional comma – occasionally occasioning a coma.

Of course, here Jean-Marie is an expositionist of the most sophisticated form of the sport, ‘HOLY KEYBOARDING’ – or to give it its full title, High Order Linguistic Yoga Keyboarding. We cannot all achieve – or even wish to aspire to – such dizzy heights, especially given the rigorous hours of training that are required. It is both a dedication and a skill to bury oneself willingly among the myriad shelves of dusty tomes in darkened corners of library stacks slowly imbibing not only clouds of dust but also the heady examples of past masters in the search for truly obfuscatory vocabulary – dreaming of hearing at last the traditional congratulation on reaching the highest level of the art of obstructing communication, “muzzle tov”.

No, keyboarding does not consist solely of this kind of bravura performance; indeed, for many if not most practitioners it never really reaches beyond the achievement of the simple transverse accidental (or sta, as the theoreticians call it – further broken down, of course, into the directionality of the left or right transverse, thus giving us a basic nomenclature of lta and rta – though the latter should no longer be confused with police reports of motorway pile-ups, which are now referred to as road traffic collisions or rtcs).

We should acknowledge here that some people find it difficult to distinguish between exponents of keyboarding and, for example, myopic typists or the digitally challenged – surely, they argue, most accidentals are unintentional commonplaces rather than brilliant technical demonstrations of skill. We have all experienced, they argue, the misfortune of writing papers on Hannibal’s campaign and referring to the Pubic Ears rather than the Punic Wars – how can we tell whether this is the product of inadequate fingering or a dazzling combination of lta/rta basic keyboarding?

Well, not to beat about the bush, as Einstein said (Shlomo ‘Gravedigger’ Einstein, the first man to discover the homicidal qualities of keyboarding when he smashed someone’s skull with an Underwood No 4 typewriter – or possibly No 5, given the undeveloped state of forensic science at the time) the defining characteristic of the basic keyboarder is generally agreed to be intentionality. As Einstein (Uncle Albert, that is) also said:

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Even though Shlomo was more concerned with unconsciousness, of course, the point holds. Indeed, some historians of keyboarding (see Heidegger, Existentialist Keyboarding: A Phenomenology of the Diacritic in Western Literature (1976) and Being and Typing: Hermeneutics in Action (1933)) associate Einstein’s consciousness that consciousness has levels directly with his consciousness that letters fall across three different levels on the classical keyboard – which insight helped form the initial theory of GRADE II KEYBOARDING, where transverse accidentals expanded to include what Heisenberg (see Position and Momentum: The Uncertainty Principle for Typists (1928)) termed ‘vertical trajectory’.

This breakthrough transformed the way ordinary people thought about keyboards, of course, and their whole approach to them – resulting in one of the first jazz-age mass movements, which was to shuffle in from the right or left (depending on one’s political development) rather than the recently popular method of face-to-face direct confrontation – and leading to the more sensitive engagement known as ‘touch’ typing.

Vertical trajectory quickly introduced the notion of the triple substrate, or the QPALZM Modality, which in turn developed a congruent notational alphabetisation of keyboard activity – so that researchers were able to identify not only transverse accidentals but also vertical ones; to recognise ‘deep’ or ‘shallow’ transliterations, where the vertical movements dropped or rose by two or one layers respectively; and eventually to refine notation to reflect that, so that if the intention was to replace ‘bag’ with ‘tag’ the descriptor would state that a deep-level non-transverse accidental had been achieved in an upward modality – or Udlnta, in the notational shorthand. The reverse, of course, would be itemised as Ddlnta. And had ‘bag’ become ‘gag’, of course, the notation would read Uslnta.

Post-war innovations ensured continuing development of technique, and gradually the notational model was encouraged to admit that accidentals were not restricted to initial letters but could occur randomly. Several attempts were made to integrate this new evolutionary computation through genetic algorithms and the exciting particle swarm optimisation concept into a practical dynamic. There remains to this day some disputation as to how well this post-pedesis methodology might be said to work; though the complexity of interpreting, say, the difference between ‘maggot’ and ‘Margot’ is undeniable – as it represents a shallow left transverse accidental in an upward modality at the third marker whilst also incorporating the dreaded Capslock Shift – and so reads as Usl3taCS.

And, of course, there are other difficulties – how, for example, is it possible to explain convincingly the confusion between Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Constance Gardener’s horticultural classic A Brief History of Thyme, which is not merely a double left transverse accidental but one interrupted by a shallow non-transverse downward modality?

Appropriately, such confusions led Skinner and other behaviourists somewhat tentatively towards the paradigm of what became known as Field Theory, where the triple substrate architecture was subsumed within larger groupings in upward and downward as well as transverse modalities. The most common segmentation tectonics model adopted is the Major/Left/Right/Minor, mapped originally by Arrowsmith and Bertelli in their seminal volume Keyboard Cartography: A Proposal (1991).

The four Fields all comprise blocks of letters over three levels, following the standard UK keyboard layout, so that the top level Fields One to Four are made up of QWER/TY/UI/OP; the middle level Fields are ASD/ FG/HJ/KL respectively; and the bottom level Fields are ZX/CV/BN/M.

Of course, this continues to struggle to find adequate operators to fully realise the potentiality of SUB-HOLY KEYBOARDING and has yet to accommodate to the new regulations of IFSHK, the organising international body which controls the sport.

That said, current cutting-edge research in Geneva suggests some measure of optimism that eventually it will be possible to posit and prove the Holy Grail of modern keyboarding, the Unified Field Theory, where fundamental accidentals and random modalities might finally be describable within terms of strong, weak, electromagnetic (for modern keyboards) and gravitational influences (such as trigger-finger aberrations or droop functions).

So whither keyboarding? It is possibly helpful to remember that on a very simple yet profound level keyboarding is just the alphabet’s way of looking at itself, as that great exponent Niels Bohr commented in his 1936 ground-breaking monograph Complementarity: Quantum Keyboarding for Beginners. Of course, he also famously observed that:

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.

In that spirit, perhaps it is enough simply to wish one and all gappy dingering if not jappy gingering – directionality being all.

© Mike Liddell 2019