Communicating through buttons
How the tool changes the message.
In my early school years, I distinctly remember a particularly boring task the entire class were required to master because the future depended on it. The teacher was clear each assignment should be competed as accurately as possible. At my youthful age, this seemed like an absolute waste of time - who would need such a thing, really? I didn't know then, but the class time we spent on these bland exercises meant this skill would actually become useful: Touch Typing.
Repetitive and mundane are the two best terms to describe the many typing drills we endured. A reference sheet was set up to the side of an Apple II. I had the least interest in home row key drills (which turned out to be useful when speed became part of the grading matrix). These drills were so much more boring than anything else I did in school. It was a grind I wanted to avoid.
Keyboarding classes that drilled touch typing were originally designed to train up skilled typists at a time when offices relied on typewriters. Keyboarding was a standard high school level class at many schools around the nation even as the personal computer was adopted in corporate settings (home computers arrived later). Not everyone would finish the class with the high speed and accuracy of a professional typist, but they could at least muddle their way to get words onto the screen. This was an important skill in the world of work where computers were sure to overtake typewriters in the near future.
Touch typing was once thought to be an essential skill for all adults entering a world where computers would dominate. Mastering the skill of clicking the right keys to form words on a screen was seen as a gateway into the future. From my perspective, teachers were telling us "If you can type what you're thinking or seeing quickly, you can move through the work efficiently". The message was clear in those days. However, not all school systems saw keyboarding as an essential skill.
Casual conversations with colleagues over my career led me to believe keyboarding fell out fashion much sooner than I noticed. Colleagues who would have been in my primary school cohort (but grew up in other areas) were not required to type nearly as well as me and my classmates. They didn't endure the timed speed+accuracy tests I associated with my early exposure to computers.
Touch typing remains an important skill, even in the age of smartphones and voice assistants. Touch typing allows you to make words appear on screen without thinking much about where each letter is located on the keyboard. This frees the mind to focus on the thoughts you want to express rather than the input actions. We now know this works so well because the brain is adept at building habits to streamline our activities (good or bad).
The brain wants to encode habits to free up brain power for tasks that require more willpower and focused attention. Touch typing is the kind of habit that frees the mind to focus on communicating. Sadly, many schools chose to eliminate touch typing classes and requirements in favor of other activities citing the misguided perception that children today are "digital natives" who arrive at school with adequate technology skills. Therefore, no additional attention should be spent on keyboarding (or other computer literacy skills). This attitude hasn't helped students - university students often encounter difficulty with basic computer tasks because they simply don't have the computer experience required to complete the task. Computer literacy and keyboarding are inextricably linked. Smart device familiarity doesn't readily translate to computer literacy.
I believe keyboarding should be part of a larger computer literacy education for young students. Foregoing basic computer literacy and keyboarding has only hurt young students as they progress through university studies, and later join the workforce. Technology becomes a hindrance to communication rather than simply a tool.
Touch typing (and related computer literacy skills) help us focus on the message, not the tools.