GNU Emacs - Using Emacs - Emacs Pinky

Many heavy Emacs users have experienced repetitive strain injury pain in their pinky fingers, dubbed the Emacs pinky, because of Emacs' strong dependence on Control and Meta keys, and in particular because many keyboard-users press control keys with the little finger (pinky), due to today's common IBM PC keyboard layout.

There are software-side and hardware attempts to mitigate this problem. Software-side methods are:

  • Swapping the position of Control key. Although not limited to Emacs, many users transpose the left Control key and the left Caps-lock key. Some define the Caps-lock as Control keys as well, or transpose the Control and Meta keys.
  • Viper-mode, a feature built into Emacs that allows the use of the vi keys for basic text editing and the Emacs keys for more advanced features.
  • StickyKeys as a means to turn key combinations into key sequences.
  • "Dual role" modifier keys. For example, using the Space bar both as the space and the control, where a simple press of the space bar is a space, but when it's pressed with other keys, it works as the control. With keyboards with enough keys around the space bar, Japanese keyboards for example, both Meta and Ctrl (and Shift or whichever) can be pressed with thumbs.
  • Driving Emacs through voice input.
  • Use software that reminds the user to take breaks every n minutes, like xwrits.

Hardware side solutions are special keyboards such as Kinesis's Contoured Keyboard, which reduces the strain by moving the modifier keys so that they are in a position to be easily pushed by the thumb, or the Microsoft Natural keyboard, which has large modifier keys placed symmetrically on both sides of the keyboard so that they can be pressed with the palm. Foot pedals can also be used.

Historically, the "Emacs pinky" problem didn't exist; the Space-cadet keyboard on which Emacs was originally developed had the Control keys adjacent to the space bar, making them easy to hit with the thumb, and both the Control keys and the dedicated Meta key were larger than the regular keys.

vi advocates often cite Emacs pinky as a reason to switch to viā€”even though vi users often transpose Caps Lock with their mode change key for similar reasons.

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