The Mechanical Keyboard Rabbit Hole

Being somewhere on the “progressive” spectrum means that I have a weird relationship with stuff. (This is made only worse by being at least nominally part of a faith that emphasizes simplicity.) As with anything I try to find a balance, but with a consumer culture on one hand and a push towards minimalism on the other, it can be hard.

But this isn't really about that. One thing that does help balance it out is the “buy it for life” idea. Sort of a reverse version of Vimes' Boots:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

(From Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett.)

At the least, this offers a good way to rationalize spending more money than I strictly speaking need to. I guess, though, that at the end of the day, I'd rather be someone who has to justify and rationalize spending money than saving it.

Anyway, when I got a new gaming desktop (speaking of which) this past spring, the system builder I used had a deal where you could spend $5 for a keyboard upgrade. Sure, why not? I think they mentioned it being a mechanical one, and I kind of knew that this was something people take seriously, but I didn't especially care.

Until I had one, that is. Now, my wife was less enamored, because the switches (basically the things that make the keys go up and down) are very loud (for those who know what this means, they're clones of the Cherry MX Blue). Very loud, very clicky. But that keyboard feels amazing. It's one of those things that I didn't know could feel different or better until I found something that showed me.

For my job, I spend all day typing on either a laptop keyboard or a cheapest-possible OEM keyboard when I'm in the office. At home, I'd either been using an older Logitech one (the G110, about 7 years old at this point) on my desktop, another laptop keyboard, or occasionally a Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. But I found that once I got over the key height on the mechanical, I never wanted to type on anything else. It just plain feels better, in a way that's difficult to describe. You get more feedback in your fingers, the way my wrist sits is better, and I just plain enjoy the clickiness.

After a few months of this, I decided to investigate getting a new one for my desktop downstairs in order to annoy my wife slightly less. The plan is to use that one upstairs for my personal computer once I'm home. Then eventually I want to get what's called a tenkeyless (basically a normal-sized keyboard but with no number pad on the far right) to use for my job, with the smaller size making it easier to toss in my bag for when I have to be in the office.

So this was my rationalization for dropping $100+ on a keyboard: it's more comfortable, mechanicals last longer, and it's worth it since my job is literally 95% typing.

What I didn't realize was how deep this rabbit hole goes.

I suppose I should've known given that there's an entire (very active) subreddit devoted to nothing else. It's not just that there are a lot of places to buy them, there are a lot of places to buy pieces of them. You can get the caps (the actual part your fingers touch) custom-made, you can assemble them from parts if you're willing to solder. It goes on.

After like 2 hours, I realized I didn't want to mess with all that, and just got this one. Even this required figuring out what the difference in the switches was, which required more time, mostly on YouTube. (I haven't received it yet, as it's only been a couple days. Time from order to shipping was good, though.)

It's an interesting subculture, and I have a hard time judging it too hard. Granted, I have no interest in futzing around with massdrops (basically a thing where if enough people order something someone will make it), and I don't think I'll be sucked in to the point of spending $150 just on key caps. But I admit to understanding how someone could be willing. I think we underestimate the degree to which having tools that make you happy can really make doing a job better.