Have you ever wondered why we take summer vacations?
The practice is a relic of the agrarian economy and was meant to allow farmers’ children (a critical part of the workforce at the time) to pitch in during harvest season. Small family farming began to recede in the 19th century and yet we continue to live with its legacy in the 21st century.
This is an example of the ‘QWERTY Effect’, named after the curious reason why Anglo-Saxon keyboards have letters that spell out Q-W-E-R-T-Y in the upper left-hand corner. Back when people wrote on typewriters with keys (Google the word to see what they look like, millennials!), the earliest machines were very delicate.
In fact, the main challenge was to prevent users from typing too quickly and jamming the typebars together. In 1873, Christopher Latham Sholes managed to slow down the speed at which people could type by setting out the keys in one of the least efficient ways possible, and the QWERTY layout was born. Fast forward to today, and the keyboard on which I’m typing (or ‘keying’?) this post on still maintains the QWERTY layout even though there’s no ribbon to be found anywhere.
The QWERTY keyboard has become a metaphor for outmoded but deeply ingrained activities that persist well past their point of relevance.
When I realized that so many aspects of my life — from when I work to how I type — were based on old habits, I wondered what else we’ve been conditioned to accept as ‘fact’ without critically assessing it first.
It was then that I discovered the power of what I call ‘perpendicular thinking’.
In geometry, a perpendicular line is one that meets another at a perfect, 90-degree right angle. We need to develop that reflex of looking at conventional wisdom from a contrarian viewpoint – questioning what we’re told to believe and investigating whether or not it’s still true.
Conclusion: Don’t subcontract critical thinking to society. Always stop and think when someone says that you’re ‘supposed’ to do something. It may turn out that you’re the only one who knows what they’re doing.