Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Horizontal?

Is a portrait-oriented computer screen just one Deeth tech quirk too many? I'm deciding.

My home setup of late is Laptop In Name Only: I use an external keyboard, mouse and monitor. The laptop itself is rarely physically touched except to shoo away a cat. (When I'm mobile for a meeting I take the number two or three laptop.) As a writer I like a physical desk and a desktop computer arrangement - especially with my too noisy for a shared office IBM Model M keyboard.

Over the weekend I picked up a bigger monitor at University Surplus, and getting home I realized it rotated 90 degrees. It's tech, it's quirky, let's do it.

Results are mixed. I like it a LOT for reading long articles full of text, and for writing this post, from what little I've been able to find on the subject desktop publishing people like the vertical setup too. It doesn't work as well for the checkbook spreadsheet. I find myself not using one of my other quirks as much: the second, horizontal scroll wheel on my mouse. Switching back is one setting away, but it would be a really swift trick if it could auto-sense the move like a smart phone or tablet does.

Which begs the question: Hey, why ARE computer screens horizontal anyway?

Some of it may just be tradition, like the QWERTY keyboard layout. And if your keyboard is horizontal and your portable device is a clamshell-designed laptop, that kind of by force makes the screen wider than tall too.  (Once setting up a netbook I accidentally switched to a rotated screen and it was a challenge to all I know about dimensions to set it back. That said, I can read upside down with little effort.)

Yet why in the mobile and e-reader era does the desktop environment by default stay horizontal? If you're working at a desktop setting you're working with a lot of paper and the default mode of paper is letter rather than legal... and why is THAT?

I'm not finding reasons so I'll speculate. Scroll down with me... because scrolls were the pre-book paper format, and going the short way rather than the long way let you complete more thought with less unrolling. Then books come along, and two side by side pages is horizontal.

Think now of our climb down from the trees, when our climbing up to reach the next banana started to matter less than looking left and right to chase the next mammoth. And think of live stage theatre, in buildings and amphitheatres that were wider than tall. This translated to motion pictures which then translated to television which then transferred to computer monitors.

Good lord, I've gone all first half hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey to rationalize rotating a monitor by a right angle. I'm going to have to ask for more bananas.

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