AutoCorrect: A View of Your Auditory Future

AutoCorrect, love it or hate it? This week, the New York Times Magazine had a short feature about it. Me, I mostly love it. I am a lousy, self-taught typist. I went to high school in the “olden days” when men were men and women were girls. Only the students in the secretarial track took typing classes. I wasn’t one of them.

four people holding mobile phones
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I truly love AutoCorrect when I am typing something on a full computer keyboard and it fixes all the common typos for me; “teh” automatically becomes “the”, and “studnet” is transformed into “student” before I realize my mistakes. A god-send! On more complicated choices, some programs flag the suspect word and let me choose the correct spelling. Wow, even better!

But when I am texting, this exuberant love diminishes. I make more mistakes texting because the virtual keyboard is small and my fingers often miss the key, and because I text while distracted — cooking, on line in the grocery store, in the car (but only while stopped). I also use acronyms and texting abbreviations, which aren’t always recognized. Unless I intervene, the correction provided in a pop-up balloon is not a suggestion but the actual replacement. I often miss the opportunity to stop it and touch “Send” too soon. The results varies from helpful, to confusing, to hilarious. Sound familiar?

When a recent texting correction changed my misspelling of the antibiotic “doxycycline” to “foxy villian”, I had a small epiphany. After I finished laughing (and clarifying it in another text), I realized that, if I was talking instead of texting, it could be what my hearing-impaired mother might think I said. Even with her hearing aid, she only catches 60% in a quiet setting; the rest she gets by context and facial expressions. She is far from alone. Hang out at any senior center and you can experience conversational confusion in real time. These common hearing mistakes are called “slips of the ear” and make for a lot of jokes about older people. Fact: as we age, we all lose hearing ability and it is expected to be worse for the next generation. We should take notice of these type of corrections. AutoCorrect is showing us visually what our auditory future might hold. And I’m thinking it’s not so funny anymore.

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