I’ve been using spell-check since the day it was available years ago on my first computer and word processor, a Victor 9000 with Multimate. This was back in 6th grade for me and later through my academic career. I have great belief that my lack of ability to spell complex words off the top of my head are directly related to the fact that I didn’t have to know how to spell all the time. I used a computer for that.
Technology progressed from there and soon Microsoft had Word correcting misspelled words as we typed. Soon they were offering grammar suggestions too (although not very well in the beginning). Then they started correcting my tenses for me automatically, along with capitalization, correcting my case and turning off my caps key if I suddenly starting typing a sentence like “yESTERDAY I WENT TO THE STORE.”.
Now, sites like Google and such actually “guess” at what I’m trying to say, making it so I don’t even have to type my entire though.
It’s all about saving time and making us more efficient, but are we just being lazy?
Honestly, I love how far we have come. Non-audio communication (for my experience anyway) has always been drastically slower than audio based communication. I can put forth a concept talking with someone a hundred times faster than if I were to write it in an email or in a memo by hand.
In school before computers were mainstream I handed in all my written homework on a computer. In fact, if I was given a homework paper to fill out, I would either duplicate it on a computer or type it out on a typewriter. I wasn’t being neat, I hated handwriting. It was just too slow!
So, rather than being lazy I’d call myself inpatient. Do I take this for granted? I think I actually take advantage of it. It’s not a crutch but a feature. I know Word will correct my capitalization. I know my iPhone will add a period and put my Shift key on when I enter a double space, signifying the end of a sentence and the start of another. So, I simply don’t do this anymore. It’s actually funny watching me type in a plain vanilla word processor like Notepad or an online webform, because I see how much I have come to use the built-in optimizations. I actually anticpate and take advantage of the fact that my typing is being corrected for me. Why do I need to bother holding down the shift key at the beginning of every single sentence? I know the software will do it for me so that’s one less key I have to hit every time. Why do I have to type in apostrophe’s in words like won’t, you’re, or I’ll. There is no other word these could possibly be so my iPhone puts them in for me. This is a speed boost feature, not a tool for inept typists.
In other areas of life we don’t even think about this. For instance, in the development world we have development environments that allow us to write lines of codes with only a few keystrokes. The software makes suggestions as we type and even makes recommendations on how to clean up our code. This isn’t considered lazy but actually considered a feature because it makes us not only faster programmers but helps us write more consistent and higher quality software. This is an investment by our employers. They don’t want to pay us to type mundane lines of code when we don’t have to. They’d rather spend an extra few $100 on our tools and pay us to think, get their product to market and start selling it faster with a higher rate of quality. They don’t think of it as giving us tools to make us lazy but to actually get a better return on their investment.
Enter the iPhone and it’s text input system. Since the keyboard is entirely touch screen and can be a little small it is quite common that you’ll actually hit a letter adjacent to the one you meant to type. So, what does Apple do to help this? Why, every word you type is checked against a dictionary. If it doesn’t recognize the word you type it attempts to find a match using all the letters adjacent to the ones you typed. So, for instance, if I accidentally types “hekko” it might suggest “hello” as an alternative. Other neat features are like I mentioned above. Since the screen ahs limited space, unlike a full-sized keyboard on a computer, they attempt to maximize the space they have and minimize the amount of context switching. What I mean by context switching is changing from letters to numbers or symbols, typing punctuation, using international characters, etc. For isntance, if I am filling out my email address they put the @ sign as one of the keys on the main screen. I have to use an @ sign every single time I type an email address, so why not put this on the main keyboard with the rest of my letters when entering email addresses? When I am typing in a web address they have a “.com” button. What if I want to go to a .net or .org address instead? If I hold down the .com button after a brief pause it will open up and allow me to drag to any number of common suffixes, such as .org, .net, .gov, etc. There are tons more but you get the point.
I never realized how awesome these little changes might be until I got my own iPhone. I type on it all the time and they are life savers. What the iPhone doesn’t due (as highly criticized by users and iPhone opponents) is that there is no spell check. I completely agree and expect Apple to remedy this shortly. Why a device that can predict what I meant to say, take video, allow me to find where I last parked, count my food intake, suggest movies near me, etc can’t even offer to spell check my words in this day and age is beyond me. But that’s another story.
Now, if you’ve seen the recent Samsung commercials, there is a new texting technology on their Omnia phones called Swype. It allows you to type simply by dragging your finger rather than physically pushing down and then lifting up your finger on each button. Is this faster? Well, that all depends on your typing style and comfort but I could see this being a game changer for those that like it.
In the end, what’s the best? Well that’s all relative, but for my money it seems like we have a lot of good ideas, all going in opposite directions!
Why can’t I have a Swype input that suggests as I type, corrects my spelling if I hit an adjacent letter, corrects my spelling if I misspell a word in a common way or use a grammatically incorrect tense or pluralism. that would be the best. Combine Swype with the iPhone and Microsoft and I’d be set. If I am on a standard computer with a full sized keyboard some of the options like Swype no longer make sense, but I still like the double space that converts to a period and turns my shift key on among many others.
That’s where my money is. Hopefully it won’t take too long. I’m sure there will be patent wars but in the end hopefully us users get the benefit of all these typing optimizations working together.