The Loud Sounds of Many Fingers Typing

Lush garden in front, deciduous tree in centre in front of 2 storey old building

My favourite, quiet courtyard at University of Sydney

This series of posts has largely celebrated the tweeting of this year’s Australian Historical Association Conference. Overall we did well at sharing the news of the conference online. But while we should celebrate our achievements, we should at the same time keep a sense of proportion on all this. Twitter is not everything and neither is social media. The vast majority of conference attendees did not send a tweet and are probably not on Twitter at all. However, as I wrote in my last post, historians who are not on Twitter also benefit from tweeting.

But for at least one attendee, the use of computers during conference sessions detracted from their conference experience. After the conference they shared their less than ideal experience with me. They noted that I had referred to “soft tapping of numerous keyboards” from people tweeting at the Global Digital Humanities Conference in an earlier post. This historian said that in their view the sounds of people typing was not ‘soft’ but so loud that they found it quite distracting. They said that they didn’t feel comfortable raising this during the comfortable as they didn’t want to upset people or cause the issue to mushroom into a controversy.

I sympathise with this person. My hearing is like that experienced by people who use hearing aids. I have an auditory processing problem which makes it very difficult for me to filter out extraneous noises. When I was in university lectures I had to sit at the front in those classes with people who typed during the lectures as the sound of the typing made it very difficult for me to hear the lecturer.

It seems that I have improved my ability to filter out the sound of typing since then (possibly aided by quieter keyboards) but at the Australian Historical Association conference I made sure that I sat at the back or at the side of rooms so that I would not disturb others. Aside from the sound, I find it distracting when I can see someone’s screen.

It is not only people who are tweeting that use a keyboard during a conference. People also use a keyboard to take personal notes. Touch screens should result in quiet typing but I find that the clack of finger nails on touch screens very annoying. Would it be practical to ask people who are typing to sit at the back of venues to minimise the distraction to other attendees?

The related issue is the fact that the person with a legitimate problem did not feel that they had a means to discuss the issue with the conference organisers who may have been able to ask those typing to move to the back of venues. The person who raised this issue did not want a big fuss made about this, but I am sure that conference organisers could make available a discrete channel of communication at a conference to deal with issues like this. Perhaps there could be an ‘ideas/comments’ box at the registration table which attendees could be encouraged to use to communicate congratulations, suggestions and problems?

What do you think about this issue and these ideas? Please share your comments below.

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7 thoughts on “The Loud Sounds of Many Fingers Typing

  1. This has come up at library conferences too, and the “tweeting rows” have been subject to stern looks and on occasion requests to be quiet. As you say, it’s not limited to tweeting as many use laptops and tablets as their primary means of notetaking. As that increases, the possibility of moving that group to the back diminishes ie when it becomes too widespread. For me, I am a loud typer and hearing impaired so sitting at the back isn’t a great option.

    One thing that has been done at library conferences is to have a whiteboard in the foyer for people to leave comments, anonymously if they choose. That means others can read the concerns too.

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    • Thanks for your comment Snail. I wonder if people typing could also sit along the sides of conference venues, which includes the sides near the front, leaving the middle for those wanting silence? But you have a good point about the fact that the numbers of people typing during conference sessions will only increase. As I noted, even touch screens can be noisy.

      Probably the best that can be done is for people typing to be aware of the issue and do what they can to be considerate, but knowing there is no perfect solution.

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  2. I have tweeted at one conference at the NLA, but have decided since then not to because I found that I couldn’t concentrate on the talk, take notes, and tweet THOUGH of course I could tweet between papers, but then there’s talking to people, fitting in a cuppa, doing that comfort stop etc!

    The other issue is the typing. I sometimes take notes on my iPad, and sometimes on paper. I prefer the iPad for obvious reasons but I’m conscious of both the light and the sound of my finger nails tapping so if I’m in a very quiet, fairly dark environment I go back to paper. I’ve tried a handwriting app and found it pretty good. You still have the light issue but no tapping sound. However, the app I used doesn’t scroll so you are forever having to create another page AND the app is sometimes unstable in the sense that a tiny moment of my and makes the page slide away and I lose time getting it back again.

    I’m not sure quarantining people is the answer for the reason given – i.e. numbers are going to increase – BUT I think the sound and the light are distractions.

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    • Thanks for your thoughts Sue. It is a tough problem. I don’t think a handwriting app would work for tweeting but it could be useful for many people. I find that I type faster and with less effort than with handwriting. I’ve lost my childhood handwriting callous on my finger from lack of use!

      Perhaps a creative person could invent a silent keyboard? I find that touch screens are no good because it is impossible to touch type with them because you can’t rest your fingers on the keyboard ready to type like you do with a keyboard.

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      • Yes, I can type faster than write too – on a normal keyboard, but not on a touch screen yet. I’m getting faster at the typing on the touch screen but the noise is the issue that stops me. Of course, I could cut my fingernails to be very short. That might help. Conference nails!

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  3. I agree with your suggestion that perhaps people using screens should sit removed from general audience. There is nothing more distracting than screens popping up all around one in these situations. I sometimes wonder how much information those attendees who transmit during conferences actually absorb during the talks.

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    • Sitting away from the centre or front of the room does seem to be the answer for now, but as Snail noted in the first comment, as more people use computers in conferences, this will become less practical.

      Regarding your comment about how much people typing in conferences absorb, speaking for myself I absorb a lot more than when I am not taking notes or tweeting. It stops my mind from wandering. The key is that people like me, who can touch type, don’t need to think about where the keys are and thus get distracted. It is the same as handwriting notes during a lecture. People taking notes don’t get distracted from the presentation because they are taking notes. As Lecturer in Research Education, Tseen Khoo notes in ‘3 reasons why you’d livetweet‘, tweeting during a conference provides a valuable service to the research community.

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