Muscle memory

By: Raymund Fernandez November 04,2015 - 01:41 AM

It took him quite a bit of time learning how to touch-type. In the ‘70s, typing was a subject you could still take in school, usually under a university’s “Secretarial” program. His older sisters took subjects like “shorthand” under these programs, which for students of other disciplines in those days were offered as electives. As it turned out, he learned touch-typing all by himself and quite naturally in the course of becoming a writer.

He never took a typing course. He simply read up on something like a “chapter one” of typing. He read up only as far as understanding Qwerty keys and why they were arranged that way and in relation to what fingers. He still does not type as well as his older sisters who type faster and more beautifully than him. Indeed, his touch-typing is what would be called unorthodox, even quirky.

He still has to look down on the keyboard from time to time when he types. But he can focus now on the print on the screen and, at times, can type with his eyes closed, as he often does when he writes. In the course of writing, he might even refocus his thoughts to the television screen where CNN is playing. It makes the act of writing less brutal for him.

He always had a problem focusing on just a single thing. Late in his life he realized he might be different that way since other writers describe the act of writing as entirely different from his own perception of it. Some people apparently are capable of near absolute focus. It is possible the quality of his focus is more diffused.

But he relies primarily on muscle memory to write. At a certain point in his process of becoming a writer, he became less obligated to his fingers and the keyboard. He became more focused on his mind. The words coming to him at a particular rate and his fingers moving where they should, and he seldom ever really has to think carefully about them anymore. The typing itself requires from him less thinking now. And so his mind concentrates on more essential things.

Nevertheless, his fingers still feel really good when they work automatically this way. He likes their feel on the keyboard. When he has to use another computer to write, it takes him quite a while to adapt. He read somewhere how it takes the mind at least three days to deal with anything new.

He finds here a bit of a paradox: His fingers feeling good when they work and especially when they work automatically without thinking. It may be that he remembers somewhere inside him a memory of his long hard struggle with memorizing the typewriter keyboard. It is hard for him to memorize anything. It was always easier for him simply to understand how things work and to work this out into a larger functional scheme. If you asked him to memorize the position of the letters of the typewriter keyboard, he would get as far as Qwerty and fail this test entirely. But he can touch-type quite well and as fast as he can think out words.

There is a reason why he is thinking more and more about muscle memory. And if the topic were drawing, then he has a reason to think in terms of movement-driven gestures. There are new technologies now involving computer-numeric machine control and robotics. We may expect that skills requiring muscle memory may be less important over time. The concepts we hold of it will certainly change, but perhaps not too dramatically. Computer games also require quite a bit of muscle memory and so too remotely controlled drones.

Even so, this fact bothers him though he does not believe robotics will ever really replace activities driven by human motor skills. There are software now that can produce music without the need really for musical playing skills using traditional musical instruments. But the music that results always move us to wonder whether they can ever really replace the virtuoso musician. What is certain is that from hereon, there surely will be a tension between music played traditionally and music played using digital robotics technology.

His own bias is always for music which celebrates the human capacity for feeling and emotions. And this is possible only inside a paradigm where there is a possibility for human error, human choice, human feelings; music, with a good dose of the random and chance.  Music like this derives still from the human capacity for muscle memory skills.

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TAGS: keyboard, memory, muscle, qwerty, typing, writing

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