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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)

The Analogy of the Typewriter

The Analogy of the Typewriter.

Perhaps the most interesting example of the application is shown in the typewriter, in which the mode of learning demonstrates the relation of psychology to business.

First, let us consider the position of the keys. page 11 It is not chance arrangement that decides this. It was known that certain letters are used far more frequently than others. At the same time it was known that certain fingers were more powerful, muscularly, than others. The result was that those letters most in use were placed in a position where the strongest muscles could be used. At first sight, it would appear that this is just common sense; just so, but other factors then arise which seem less easy to consider.
At Otahuhu Workshops. The General Manager of Railways, Mr. H. H. Sterling (left), and Mr. E. T. Spidy, Superintendent of Workshops (right), snapped during a recent inspection of the new Workshops at Otahuhu, Auckland.

At Otahuhu Workshops.
The General Manager of Railways, Mr. H. H. Sterling (left), and Mr. E. T. Spidy, Superintendent of Workshops (right), snapped during a recent inspection of the new Workshops at Otahuhu, Auckland.

Since a typiste depresses the keys all day long it must be evident that a tremendous amount of energy is being used during the course of a working day. Can the same result, the aim of the job that is, be attained with less effort? Experiments were made with keys requiring less depression to reproduce the letter until a standard was reached which gave the maximum work with a minimum of energy expenditure. It was this research work which produced advertisements by a firm of typewriting machine makers. The pressure needed to produce one letter was stated to be 5 ounces while other machines required a muscular energy of from 12 to 15 ounces. The advertisement goes on: “With the lightest running typewriter it takes about 5 ounces of pressure to make one imprint. That is, every time a stenographer depresses a type key she exerts a pressure force of 5 ounces with one finger. With 70 type spaces in a line she exerts a pressure of 350 ounces for each line. In writing an average letter of 40 lines, the stenographer exerts a force of 875 pounds, considerably over one-third of a ton weight.” Then, of course, there is the energy necessary to shift the carriage with the attendant pressure on the shift key—against the force of a spring-tension—this pressure has been calculated at three pounds. The figures for one line of type are, therefore, 25 pounds. The advertisement continues: “In the course of an average day's work of, say, fifty 40-line letters, the variation in the force required to operate two different machines may amount to an aggregate unnecessary and avoidable expenditure of energy on the part of an operator equivalent to the lifting of a dead weight of fifty times 1,200 pounds—or 30 tons a day.”

Of course the language is not scientific; engineers and others dealing with pressure and weights realise at once that the pressure must be expressed in, say, foot-pounds or some other technical measure. At the same time, however, the facts, as stated, convey the basic ideas to a non-technical individual. Just at this point there is a further factor. Scientific research has developed the “minimum effort” machine, but is there any resultant return to the individual, unless definite training is given in pressing the keys? The answer is, “No.” So the human factor enters. Girls are taught how to press the keys with the exact amount of energy. The gain is obvious, energy saved is a victory over fatigue.

But that is not all. No typiste is a standard individual. Differences creep in, differing rates of speed appear. To find out how remarkable these individual differences are, refer to anyone employed in a business college. A technique of work, therefore, has been evolved. Touch typing, the slower “sight” work, or a combination of both,—each system has its devotees, although the amateur, it must be admitted, uses a “one” finger sight system obviously slow and wasteful in practice. For reasons of efficiency, touch typing seems to be the most favoured, since it leaves the stenographer free to give her attention to the manuscript from which she is page 12 working, while her movements, through practice and training, have become thoroughly automatic. In any case she is, apparently, able to work at a greater speed with such a system. Ignoring for the time the differences in design due to scientific application of laboratory discoveries, we thus see that the use of psychology in industry aims at obtaining the maximum of output with the minimum of expenditure of individual energy.