Emacs Key Bindings Make You Retarded

The other day, I stopped using Firefox for gmail. Part of the reason is that Firefox under MacOS feels slightly wrong and renders funny because it is still using older Carbon interfaces. But, the real reason I stopped was because the text widgets don’t have Emacs key bindings the way normal MacOS text widgets do. What I find sad about this is not that Firefox is lacking this feature, but that my nervous system is so crippled that even 20 years down the line, I can’t purge the need for this stupid text editing user interface from the tips of my fingers. My conclusion is that Emacs makes you retarded. Of course, it’s not really Emacs that is at fault here. The real problem has to do with the ability of the human nervous system to quickly adapt to one idiosyncratic way of working (ctrl-a for go to beginnging of line? Who thought that made sense) and then not be able to flush out the adaptation when it has clearly become an impediment to further productivity. During all these years, I would have gladly given up the Emacs in favor of any number of other tools, but my psyche used various techniques to make this impossible.

A False Sense of Superiority

This kept me going for at least a good decade. The notion that I would use something else if only there were something better. Many better things were always staring me in the face, but I was always able to rationalize them away. “Well, that tool might have decent font coloring, but it won’t do adaptive USENET news thread classification.” You know how it goes.

Premature Abandonment

This is the syndrome that causes you to give up on every new tool after five minutes because you cannot immediately adapt to it. You forget that it probably took months of acclimation to get really good with the original tool. But, no matter. You try to use a new, and probably better, tool for a few minutes and the fifth time ctrl-a does not do the right thing, you throw it out the window.

One Last Legacy

I still use Emacs day to day, but not for coding. I actually use it to connect to an archaic chat system that many of my online “friends” also use. My attachment to this legacy application is almost as sad as my attachment to ctrl-a. But what can you do.

Ultimately, I think in a few more years, I’ll have managed to completely wean my subconcious from the need to hit ctrl-a all the time. Happily, or maybe not so happily, MacOS has managed to slow this process down somewhat because the Cocoa frameworks date back to NeXTStep, which was devleoped by a bunch of recovering Emacs addicts, and so all of the text editing widgets (and some modern applications, like Keynote and Pages) provide all of the core key bindings, including the beloved ctrl-a. The irony that brings the Mac user interface and Emacs together is pretty thick.

So, yes, I will remain mentally crippled, but at least I’ll be able to edit text on my Mac.