A keyboard is an everyday tool most people use without giving second thought.
Of course it’s shaped like a rectangle. Of course keys are laid out in this order. Of course it’s black or gray or white.
But for a certain group of keyboard enthusiasts, there is a world beyond the generic typing device that comes with your cubicle.
“There are a whole host of reasons someone may become interested, be it [because] they're gamers, developers, tinkerers, artists, engineers, product designers, vintage enthusiasts, or just have an ergonomic concern with typical keyboards,” says Matt McCormick, a keyboard enthusiast and an organizer of KeyCon 2018 at the Ace Hotel.
This event will be held Saturday at the hotel’s ballroom. It is free to the public, but mechanical keyboard aficionados are expected to make up most of the audience.
Keyboards can most commonly be divided into two categories: dome-switch keyboards (what the average peasant uses) and mechanical keyboards (for fancy nerds). The biggest difference in keyboard types lies in the type of switch used, which is what tells the keyboard what letter you’ve pressed. The average keyboard uses membrane switches, with all the keys laid out like a circuit board. On mechanical keyboards, the individual keys are more responsive, tactile, and similar to the feel and mechanism of a typewriter.
The mechanical kinds are more tactile and customizable. Users can choose switch types depending on varied uses — typing or gaming, as well as click volume. Visually, mechanical keyboards can look pretty much however you want.
“There are boards which have only about 40 percent of the keys a normal keyboard would, all the way up to a ‘displaywriter,’ which is a vintage board about the size of a coffee table,” McCormick says.
Individual key caps can be replaced with ones in the likeliness of monsters, monkeys and tropical flowers. Some keyboards light up. Ergonomic keyboards surely have a distinct function, but mostly look airplane controllers.
KeyCon 2018 will feature speakers, demos and giveaways. Proud attendees will show off their own keyboards.
After a 2013 debut in Chicago, KeyCon grew in part due to an active online presence within the community. Keyboard enthusiasts usually roam about in two forums: the mechanical keyboard subreddit, and a site specific to keyboardheads (Geekhack). A thread on Geekhack notes attendees will be flying and driving in from around the country — with precious keyboards in tow.
As far as hobbies go, this one ain’t cheap. Mechanical keyboards can be hundreds of dollars, plus the fun keycaps, not to mention the hotel and airfare to meet up with your tribe.
“There are high school and college students, and programmers, and I even know a couple doctors who are involved with the hobby,” McCormick says.
“You'll have a good percentage of guys though ... and they'll more than likely have a beard, so there is definitely a pretty good number of the stereotypical computer geeks.”
KEYCON 2018 12 p.m. Sat., June 30. Ace Hotel, 120 S. Whitfield St., East Liberty. acehotel.com/calendar/pittsburgh/keycon-2018