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The Politics of Picking a Pope
 

"The internal-combustion engine has been dominant for over a

hundred years—not because it’s the best possible engine,

but because it gained an initial advantage through historical accident.

The QWERTY keyboard layout was designed to be deliberately inefficient

so that the mechanical keys of the typewriter would jam less frequently.

That feature is no longer relevant, but it doesn’t matter —

we’re still typing on QWERTY keyboards, because that’s what people are used to. 

The same principle is what makes Google or Facebook or Amazon so massive.

We use them because we’re used to using them. "

Mariana Mazzucato 

2018, MIT Technology Review 

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This artistic provocation departs from the archetypal allegation of the QWERTY keyboard configuration as industry standard as well as from the economic theory’s concepts of 'path dependence' and ‘lock-in effect’ by historical events.

 

Path dependence occurs when a feature of the economy (institution, technical standard, pattern of economic development) is not based on current conditions but has been formed by past actions. Past development decisions can influence and constrain future choices, leading to a 'lock-in' to a particular development path preventing newer alternatives from taking hold.

 

The QWERTY layout transferred seamlessly from the 70's mechanical typewriters to computers and touch screens and is ubiquitous wherever the Latin alphabet is standard. Commercial agendas often drive the progress of certain trajectories of engineering.

In cultures overdetermined by concepts from economics, we are left without discursive instruments to comprehend how free market-driven standardization systems worked and will continue to empower innovators to revolutionize the way we work, learn, communicate and play.

This project explores an alternative design of the computer keyboard that is not driven nor thoroughly integrated in capitalist production or culture. The function of these inquiries is to reflect on past, current and future trajectories of technology influences on human behaviour.

 

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This project is a speculative design consisting of a blank QWERTY keyboard with a key installed on the Return switch. The interface challenges the users to rely on touch-typing to enter a sentence in a text file displayed on the computer monitor. This procedure seeks to make perceptible to the user the persistence of the QWERTY arrangement at the cognitive level and provides a speculative reference to the 'spectre of the universal.' 

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The Politics of Picking a Pope - conceptual interface:

blank, standard functioning QWERTY keyboard with key installed on the Return switch, computer & monitor

The project was developed in occasion of the 2021 edition of 'Sankt Interface' event and exhibition curated by artist and researcher César Escudero Andaluz at the Interface Cultures department of the University of Art & Design Linz