I just found an informative article about the origin, life, and astonishing persistence of my favorite keyboard. Nearly every article on this blog was hammered out on the same Unicomp Model M I’m typing on now. The design is 25 years old and still going strong, a nearly unique longevity in computing devices.
I endorse every bit of snarkiness and ergonomic wisdom in that article. I find the lack of tactile feeback and noise from modern “soft-touch” keyboards disconcerting and uncomfortable. It does my heart good to know the model M is still being produced, now with USB interfaces even. I expect I’ll be using these until I die or we get brain/computer interfaces, whichever comes first.
I feel about the Model M the way I feel about the 1911-pattern .45 pistol and the core design of Unix. All three of these are too frequently dismissed as dinosaurs, but stand out to the discerning as timeless classics of square-shouldered ruggedness and fitness-for-purpose whose virtues, it seems, need to be rediscovered anew in every generation. They get the job done, outlasting transitory fads and fashions; they endure, with quiet excellence that is burnished rather than eroded by the passage of years. They have what architect Christopher Alexander called the Quality Without A Name and embody as well as any engineering design can the human quality the ancient Greeks called arete.
I have been many things in my life, but I am first and last and always an engineer, a maker. To me, designs that achieve the level of excellence of these examples are art to rival the Parthenon, fit to be counted among the great achievements of any civilization. It’s no bar that they are humble and utilitarian; in fact, I think they speak on that account more truthfully about the virtues of their designers and their civilization than art objects made for display and to impress.
As such, the Model M (and all engineering designs at that level of excellence) are worth celebrating. If you have one, take a moment to think about your keyboard and appreciate it. If you don’t, find out what you’re missing and buy one so Unicomp will keep making the lovely things for another 25 years, and many more after that.