Competitive typing finds a new home online

The world of typing competitions are increasingly popular with teenagers and 20-somethings. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - In the hands of Mr Hunter Shaffer, the sentence you are reading right now would take seven or eight seconds to type. This entire article would be done in just over seven minutes, and a recent Sunday Styles print section of The New York Times would take about 86 minutes.

Competitive typing, which peaked in popularity in the first half of the 20th century before fizzling out, has found a new home online. A devoted community has developed around the hobby, which has become increasingly popular with teenagers and 20somethings.

Although it has a low-key profile today, competitive typing once carried more cachet.

"I didn't realise that the typing championships were such a big deal in the first half of the 20th century, considering how small a deal they were when I was growing up," Mr Sean Wrona said.

Mr Wrona, 37, of North Syracuse, New York, cut his teeth on primitive typing computer games in the 1990s but largely forgot about typing. In 2008, while he was a graduate student in applied statistics at Cornell University, a friend introduced him to a Facebook typing game.

Mr Wrona was surprised that he was one of the fastest people and soon received friend requests from around the world.

He went on to win the Ultimate Typing Championship in 2010, a global contest sponsored by a keyboard manufacturer. He's widely regarded in the typing community as the greatest typist of the modern era.

Mr Shaffer, 24, of Parish, New York, was home-schooled with his two brothers and stumbled on an early typing website a decade ago. He discovered he was faster than his siblings and signed up for other typing websites.

Many of the fastest typists discovered early that they were naturally quick on a keyboard, but whether competitive typing requires skill or merely a lot of practise remains a question.

"Natural talent is a really hotly debated topic in the typing community," Mr Ardian Peach said.

Mr Peach, 19, of Dumfries, Virginia, believes anyone can become fast with enough practice and trained himself to achieve a speed of more than 200 words per minute.

Ms Kathy Chiang, 29, who lives in Los Angeles, picked up on the uniqueness of the typing community almost immediately, partly because of her career in gaming.

Mr Hunter Schaffer (left) and Ms Kathy Chiang. PHOTOS: NYTIMES

Although she eventually withdrew from competitive typing because of wrist injuries, Ms Chiang said she found the typing community to be a friendlier and less serious environment than the gaming community. Part of that could be because of competitive typing's relatively small reach.

"It seems like this special thing that some people want to keep secret and special and tight-knit."

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