What is the mechanical keyboard hobby- why you need one and why it’s a religion

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“Why the heck do I need a mechanical keyboard?” Is a question I asked when informed of the existence of them.

The nature of the beast that are mechanical keyboard switches is that they can consume and flip even the most stalwart skeptic in an instant. In an age where the instant gratification monkey runs rampant, there is no sweeter haptic sensation than the thock of a mechanical keycap and switch.

Mechanical keyboards open up a whole portal of customization potential- ranging from the highly practical builds for maximum typing efficiency, speedy, consistent gaming performance through linear actuation, or hilariously impractical, bulbous artisan keycaps.

Aquariam Keycaps
Aquariam Keycaps- This isn’t impractical, it’s just awesome

The reality is, for many a keyboards transcends a designation as a simple input device and grows into a passion or even a vocation. The Mechanical keyboard community continues to grow, with an initial rocket boost from Covid-induced boredom. The Reddit/MechanicalKeyboards space is now over a million members strong. Just the touch of a favorite setup can just about bring even the most stoic typist to tears.

Wait… So What Exactly is a Mechanical Keyboard?

Mechanical Keyboards differ from regular keyboards in that instead of forcing a bit of rubber with a metal contact on it against a printed circuit board, a switch underneath the keycap on a mechanical board will do this for you with far less pressure.

Mechanical Keyboards usially consist of:

  • Keycaps, which are nice looking plastic keys that you press your fingers against, which in turn activate the switches.
  • Switches will either be soldered to the printed circuit board, or sit in a socket which allows you to easily ‘hot swap’ the switches by pulling them out to change the feel of the typing experience.
  • A metal plate and case to add stability and weight to the keyboard and keep the PCB protected

So know you know what a mechanical keyboard is and how it works. But what’s all the hype about?

Colorways reel you in

It starts with pretty colorways- this is the bait. Quickly, the mechanical keyboard hobby hook takes hold as you take your first few taps and a hobbyist is born.

After 2 days of use your laptop’s Chiclet keys become unbearable, and you end up parking your new mechanical keyboard precariously on top of your laptops built in keyboard.

Chances are you’ll eventually get tired of your colorway. No worries, there are so many more out there, and it’s even possible to order in completely customized keycaps down to the individual keycaps, and even a step further printing images, color, or lettering on the side of the keycaps.

Upgrading the set up

It’s probably time to get a desktop since my laptop’s keyboard has been superseded…

Oh, and while I’m there- I think I might completely pull apart and replace every component of my keyboard. Cha ching! The sound of money leaving my pockets and delivering itself into GMK’s cash register.

Similar to how an edgy teenage hypebeast will refuse to be pictured with anything other than the latest $75 supreme logo tees, the mechanical keyboardist becomes a perfectionist thrill seeker- embarking on a never ending and tragic quest to achieve the perfect set up. This pursuit keeps the keebnerd’s bank balance in a constant state of peril. While one keyboard should theoretically be enough, the boards begin to pile up and soon there is one or more keyboards for every use case, and many more sets of keycaps and switches ready to be hot swapped.

Suddenly, sold out limited drops become like collectible cars- the desire to possess these limited edition productions will drive up prices, but ultimately will sit covered in the garage. Or in this case the desk draw.

This guy, named William Pham reportedly spent $7500 on an unspecified keyboard. I am greatly confused as to how a keyboard was priced at 7500. I’m not sure what features it is capable of but for that money I’d expect nothing less than for it to be able to transform into a car and drive you to work, and be plated with gold or encrusted with diamonds.

Increasing the quantity of keyboards owned and the amount of stuff you have that goes on them is the next step

Thanks to all the upgrades and iterations you’ve completed on your board, you’ll need to get a few more barebones boards to accommodate some of the switches and keycaps you have lying around.
Eventually, you might even start meeting people to show off all your setups at keyboard conventions.

Why I love mechanical keyboards and they actually make sense

Though draining on the bank balance- these gizmos are oddly stimulating for the mind and productivity. I find myself much more likely to type stuff- like this article, than dealing with the carpal tunnel inducing cramped Microsoft surface low profile chiclet keys that I’d suffered with for so many years. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I feel the variation of the 5+ different switch types I’ve used in my build to get a subtly different experience between for example Qwerty, Backspace and Spacebar keys.

The beauty of mechanical keyboards is that they make sense. Pretty much everyone has to type stuff on a day to day basis for one reason or another- so why not optimize your output and enjoyment of such a time consuming and commonplace activity. Even if you’ve completely allowed Bing AI or Chat GPT to automate out your entire job and life, you’ll still need a mechanical keyboard to play games while you pretend to do stuff at work.