As both a productivity tool and a gaming peripheral, the keyboard is closely related to the way people produce and output content and consume entertainment in the 21st century.

One-fifth of the 21st century has passed, and in those two short decades, our society has changed incredibly dramatically. There have been many important changes brought about by technological developments – a key example is that in 2000, less than 7% of the world’s population had access to the Internet, while by 2019, more than half of the world’s population already has access to the Internet (Hillyer, 2020). The spread of the Internet and communication devices have connected people in different parts of the world, increasing the possibilities for long-distance interaction and digital consumption.

Due to the prominence of technology in the development of the 21st century, it is impossible to ignore the place of technology products in our 21st century time capsule digital collection project. Keyboards, as peripherals for computers and (early) cell phones, are an interesting example to help illustrate how technology products are changing our lives.

Computers help us connect to the world. (Source: Innova Labs, 2017)

The keyboard has changed the way we produce content

To tell the story of the keyboard’s impact on us, we need to start by briefly reviewing its history to see how our way of producing and recording words evolved from handwriting to typewriters and then to computers.

In fact, the computer keyboard was not invented in this century – the world’s first modern keyboard is recognized to be much older than the computer. In 1867, American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes invented the first practical typewriter, and the entire prototype of the modern computer keyboard (including the famous QWERTY key row) was derived from it (Current, 1949). After that, typewriters existed as the most commonly used office device for a whole century (IBM Archives, 1951), then gradually receded from the market with the advent of the personal computer era (Lan, 2013). In the 1970s, with the development of the first commercial personal computers that really caught on (Campbell-Kelly et al., 2018), the keyboard became an important productivity tool-many computers today have touchscreen and stylus operation, but back then the bulky computers had to be programmed and used via the keyboard (Computer History Museum, 2022).

History from handwriting to typing. (Source: Cathryn Lavery, 2016; Joseph Mucira, 2021; Pexels, 2016)

When it comes to the benefits that computer typing gives us, it is often considered to be much more efficient than handwriting (Brown, 1988). An experiment at Princeton University showed that typing can be twice as fast as handwriting in about the same amount of time (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). This may mean that when producing content, typing saves us the time to allow us to create more. “That’s what typing has done for millions of people. It makes us go faster, not because we want everything faster in this hype-ridden age, but for the opposite reason: we want more time to think.” (Trubek, 2016).

However, from typewriters to computer keyboards, what technological advances have occurred between these two types of “typing”? Probably the biggest difference is that a typewriter is a self-contained mechanical device, while a computer keyboard is an assistive device that must be connected to a computer to be used (Papiewski, 2022). Typewriters allowed people to print text directly while typing, but keyboards connected to computers allowed people to store and send documents in digital form while providing us with a higher degree of accuracy (Ford, 2019). Obviously, this means that computers and keyboards have almost made typewriters obsolete by becoming more advanced devices – in 2011, the world’s last typewriter factory ceased production (Jackson, 2011), signaling that typewriters are no longer mainstream office equipment, although a small group of people still use them (Holt, 2012).

To conclude, the keyboard has changed the way we record and output, allowing us to present content quickly and paperlessly by hitting the keycaps and to modify and edit them arbitrarily, without using any scribbles. Typing has so many benefits that in the 21st century up to now, the keyboard is still the main content output tool used in people’s work and studies (Aragón-Mendizábal et al., 2016).

However, while the keyboard has helped make us faster in the 21st century, it may also bring us some effects that are not entirely positive. Imagine how difficult it would be for you to complete a 3,000-word essay by pure handwriting rather than typing, after years of using computers and keyboards? In 2014, Finland removed handwriting from mandatory classes and replaced it with typing classes because “in the future of work, typing is so much more important than handwriting.” (Hosie, 2017) A poll of 2,000 Britons also shows the waning voice of handwriting: on average, respondents hadn’t handwritten in the past 41 days (Chemin, 2014). In a way, this seems to imply that this technological progress is a challenge to tradition, and in these next 78 years of the 21st century, even if handwriting will not disappear completely, its future is still uncertain.

The keyboard has changed our way of entertainment

When it comes to mechanical keyboards in particular, we can also associate them with the very popular video games of the 21st century – perhaps symbolizing how technology has changed the way people entertain themselves. 2000 years later, MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Dota were invented and quickly became successful (Counter-strike, 2000; Drachen et al., 2014; Kho et al., 2020). When playing these games, you have to use the mouse and keyboard to operate, so people suddenly become more demanding of these devices: they filter and compare and find that mechanical keyboards are more suitable for playing video games than any other keyboards. This is mainly because it has a better tactile feel and faster response time, allowing players to get a head start in handling the game, while it is also more durable and stands up to the vigorous pounding players do when they are fighting in the game (Dobbin, 2018). In short, with the development of technology, people not only have a more diverse range of entertainment options but also have further opportunities to choose and consume a variety of entertainment devices that they appreciate.

An e-sports player who is competing. (Source: Florian Olivo, 2018)

At the same time, we cannot avoid noting the important help that video games and computer keyboards have given people during COVID-19, one of the biggest challenges of the century so far. In the run-up to the pandemic in 2020, governments issued policies requiring people to stay at home, and people had to find ways to entertain themselves at home – for people during the epidemic, video games acted as a haven, helping them escape disaster, poverty, and disease (Zhu, 2021). As a result, video games became one of the few industries that flourished after the impact of COVID-19 (Statista, 2021a), and with the growth of video games, global sales of computer keyboards also increased by 13% in 2020 (Statista, 2021b).

Regardless, putting the mechanical keyboard into a 21st century time capsule could also represent how people transformed their entertainment with the help of technology during the pandemic when everyone was forced to stay at home, while through these entertainments, technology played a positive role in inspiring and enhancing happiness (Barr & Copeland-Stewart, 2022).

Playing video games with family is a good way to relax. (Source: Fring, 2020).

The keyboard has changed itself

While the keyboard is changing us, it is also changing itself with the advancement of technology. Reda Attarça introduces us to two types of high-tech keyboards that are or will be popular in the future: touch keyboards and VR keyboards (Attarça, 2021).

The first one is the touch keyboard that was born with smartphones, which is the keyboard built into many touchscreen electronic devices (phones and tablets). This type of keyboard has been widely used, and the advantage of the virtual keyboard over the physical form of the keyboard is that it is zero cost (of course, you have already paid for the device), but it also lacks the feel of input, which is a serious disadvantage. So, just as tablets have never been able to replace PCs but only coexist with them, the relationship between virtual keyboards and physical keyboards is the same. Interestingly, even though tablets already have good virtual keyboards, equipping tablets with physical keyboards still seems to be a popular trend – A web poll shows that more than half of voters are considering equipping their iPads with external keyboards (Miller, 2020).

How to choose a peripheral keyboard that works best with your tablet? (Source: My Next Tablet, 2020).

When we turn our attention to more advanced VR keyboards, we will find that VR technology has somewhat made the virtual keyboard seems more “real”: new VR headset such as the Quest 2 from Oculus have some well-known physical keyboards included in their memory base, and when wearing the VR headset, users can easily use the holographic projection of the keyboard in the virtual display to type (Mic Ty, 2021). While the lack of the realistic touch and feel of a physical keyboard is still a problem, we can believe that in the 21st century, the future of VR keyboards is as well worth waiting for as VR technology.

Click to watch the amazing experience of typing with a VR keyboard! (Source: 360Rumors, 2021).

A keyboard is just a keyboard, while a keyboard is not just a keyboard. In the time capsule of the 21st century, we have collected some representative objects for this century, and the keyboard mainly shows the changes and effects brought by the technological development of the 21st century to human society. However, technology is constantly evolving: how will it change our lives in the future? If the era of Metaverse comes, as people “virtualize” everything, will physical accessories such as mechanical keyboards be gradually replaced by virtual body keyboards? We do not know, but we can keep our expectations.


Name: Mechanical Keyboard

3D Model

Creator: Jiaying Shi

Date: 23-01-2022

Place: Maastricht

Themes: Technology and Society

Captured with iPhone XR

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on MacOS Monterey


Physical Object

Size: 31 x 10 x 3 cm

Weight: 600 g

Material: Plastic


Aragón-Mendizábal, E., Delgado-Casas, C., Navarro-Guzmán, J.-I., Menacho-Jiménez, I., & Romero-Oliva, M.-F. (2016). A comparative study of handwriting and computer typing in note-taking by university students. Comunicar. Media Education Research Journal, 24(2).

Attarça, R. (2021). 4 Keyboards Innovations.

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Chemin, A. (2014). Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard? The Guardian.

Computer History Museum. (2022). Timeline of Computer History.

Counter-strike. (2000). We’re very happy to announce that V1.0 of Counter-Strike is now out!

Current, R. N. (1949). The Original Typewriter Enterprise 1867-1873. The Wisconsin Magazine of History, 391-407.

Dobbin, J. (2018). Are Mechanical Keyboards Better for Gaming?

Drachen, A., Yancey, M., Maguire, J., Chu, D., Wang, I. Y., Mahlmann, T., Schubert, M., & Klabajan, D. (2014). Skill-based differences in spatio-temporal team behaviour in defence of the ancients 2 (dota 2). 2014 IEEE Games Media Entertainment,

Ford, J. (2019). What are the differences between typewriter and computer?

Hillyer, M. (2020). How has technology changed – and changed us – in the past 20 years?

Holt, G. (2012). Five reasons to still use a typewriter. BBC News Magazine.

Hosie, E. (2017). The uncertain future of handwriting. BBC.

IBM Archives. (1951). The history of IBM electric typewriters.

Jackson, N. (2011). Last Typewriter Factory in the World Shuts Its Doors.

Kho, L. C., Kasihmuddin, M. S. M., Mansor, M., & Sathasivam, S. (2020). Logic Mining in League of Legends. Pertanika Journal of Science & Technology, 28(1).

Lan, P. (2013). Insight innovation dynamics of the typewriter industry. International Journal of Business Innovation and Research, 7(6), 730-751.

Mic Ty. (2021). Working in VR is GETTING REAL with this VR keyboard (Oculus Quest Infinite Office review and tutorial).

Miller, C. (2020). Poll: Would you use a Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro with a built-in trackpad?

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological science, 25(6), 1159-1168.

Papiewski, J. (2022). What Are the Differences Between a Typewriter Keyboard and a Computer Keyboard?

Statista. (2021a). Coronavirus: impact on the gaming industry worldwide (did-72150-1).

Statista. (2021b). Volume growth of the worldwide computer keyboard market from 2013 to 2025.

Trubek, A. (2016). The history and uncertain future of handwriting. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Zhu, L. (2021). The psychology behind video games during COVID‐19 pandemic: A case study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 3(1), 157-159.

Image References

Fring, G. (2019). Happy couple sitting on carpet while playing videogame. [Photograph].

Labs, I. (2017). A software developer. [Photograph].

Olivo, F. (2018). An e-sports player who is competing. [Photograph].

Image Slider References

Lavery, C. (2016). A girl who is writing. [Photograph].

Mucira, J. (2021). Typing with typewriter. [Photograph].

Pexels. (2016). Typing with computer. [Photograph].

Video References

My Next Tablet. (2020, December 14th). The 10 Best Tablets With Keyboards | End Of 2020 [Video]. YouTube.

360Rumors. (2021, April 22nd). Working in VR is GETTING REAL: Oculus Quest 2 Infinite Office #shorts [Video]. YouTube.