Shift Happens

by Marcin Wichary

A one-of-a-kind book about the history of typing

Shift Happens tells the story of keyboards like no book ever before: 150 years of keys, from the early typewriters to the pixellated keyboards in our pockets.

It’s a book about people: Frank McGurrin competing with Mae Orr during the Shift Wars of 1880s; Jef Raskin and Steve Jobs fighting over the future of computers a century later; young Mergenthaler sneaking into a clock tower dreaming of printing; Soviet agents listening to American embassy keystrokes; women pouring into offices eager to do more than typing and re-typing; people wanting to make the best mechanical keyboard today.

It’s also book of surprising connections and unintended consequences. What does Ctrl have to do with JFK’s assassination? Why is Scroll Lock one of the most important keys on your keyboard? Was touch typing a fraud? Was Mr. Dvorak? QWERTY? Why was the worst keyboard ever made actually one of the best ones? Is the best one overrated?

This is the only book that connects the world of typewriters to the universe of computers. It will have something for you whether you’re into vintage typewriters, classic clicky IBM keyboards, or modern mechanical wonders. Are you none of these? Get ready to become a keyboard nerd, and look at an everyday boring QWERTY slab with newfound respect.

The book is slated to come out in the summer of 2022.
Get a one-time email when the preorders are ready:

This is what the book looks like

I’m really proud of these stats

The list of chapters

Hover over any chapter title to see what it’s about!

Volume one

  1. “No tocar, si us plau”
  2. The early years of mingled triumph and disaster
  3. The Shift Wars
  4. The machine you will eventually buy
  5. All the fingers or none
  6. Once mechanical, now digital
  7. The primitive tortureboard
  8. “The monster feels as if it had a certain will of its own.”
  9. Operated by keys alone
  10. The largest pinball machine in the world
  11. QWERTY’s second coming
  12. Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate
  13. When ten bells are not enough
  14. The birth of input
  15. Video killed the teletype star
  16. The flying walnut of 1961
  17. Nobody’s perfect
  18. Every typewriter its own betrayer
  19. Power to the people
  20. Get green on the screen
  21. Now is the time for all good men
  22. Any place except in an office

Volume two

  1. Like fondling a zombie
  2. Mr. Kildall goes flying
  3. God’s own keyboard
  4. An unnatural act to preserve compatibility
  5. How to put a slash in a cell in Excel
  6. The motherfucking Beethoven
  7. The Kangaroo Paw
  8. Delete with force and fury
  9. The tragic fable of the gray big-ass Enter
  10. Trains, planes, and space shuttles
  11. To type, just type
  12. Mavis Beacon is not a real person
  13. Maszynistki i programiści
  14. Perfect for Shrek
  15. To labor less & accomplish more
  16. “Susie has struck the keys once or twice.”
  17. For the love of keyboards
  18. Tracks in new-fallen snow
  19. The keyboard that landed on the Moon
  20. “That is interesting, please continue.”

Make your own Dvorak hands

Fifty years ago, in a 1972 issue of Computers And Automation, Robert Parkinson created a striking visual representing the imbalance on typing of QWERTY as compared to the Dvorak layout.

In chapter 6, I talk about the myths and truths behind QWERTY and Dvorak. But before you get a chance to read it, you can make your own hand visuals by typing, and play with how different layouts come together.

Type or paste here
Try creative writing, typing code, words like “sweaterdresses” or “aftercataracts,” or .
I’m typing using BLAH.
Pretend I’m typing using .

A story of a photo on page 688

Press the right key!

See if you can guess all ten keys (or key combinations)! Just press the keys you think are the right answers to the following questions:


There is a newsletter documenting the process and sharing more keyboard stories. You might like it. Please subscribe or read some of the best issues:

Talk to Eliza

The last chapter of the book covers the history of talking using your fingers, including the early popularity of chatbots like ELIZA. You can talk to ELIZA here yourself, or pit her against a few of later chatbots.

Bot on the left:
Bot on the right:

About me

I’m a designer, writer, and engineer. I currently work at Figma. You might know me as a person who stumbled upon a magical typewriter museum in Spain, obsessed about the underline on Medium, or put Pac-Man on Google’s homepage.

If you’d like to see me speak, a quick Ignite talk about typewriters (5 min) or watch my talk about Command+B (25 min).

Read more about why I wrote this book and what it means to me

The book is slated to come out in the summer of 2022.
Get a one-time email when the preorders are ready: