I received an intriguing text from a friend last night. After asking her “What are you doing?” she answered “Norman.” I found this more than a little disconcerting, because the only Norman we know is the Pekingese owned by the couple downstairs. Thankfully, I soon got her follow-up text: “Oops, I meant ‘nothing.’ Damn autocorrect.” I breathed a sigh of relief, and I’m sure Norman did too.
While masquerading as a technological boon, smartphones have in fact plunged us into an era of disruption and uncertainty, quite similar to post-WWI Germany or post-Palin English. Thanks to affordable Bluetooth headsets that allow users to talk to themselves while walking down the street, it’s no longer possible to distinguish between Wall Street tycoons and other crazy people. Pedestrians engrossed in conversation are regularly walking into walls and falling into open manholes. And with real angry birds having lost their ability to frighten us, there’s been a drastic increase in dry cleaning bills.
But the biggest changes wrought by smartphones are caused by autocorrect. For the uninitiated, autocorrect inserts the word your phone believes you meant to type. For example, if you write, “I hopy to see you soon,” your iPhone will correct it to “I hope to see you soon.” Of course, if you write, “I lve Microsoft Word,” your iPhone will also correct it to “I hope to see you soon.” My friend’s Blackberry autocorrects our president’s name to “Ba Rack Obert.” That’s supposed to be smart? Even Hank Williams Jr. knows that “Barack Obama” translates to “Adolf Hitler” (are YOU ready for some political football, Hank?).
Tragically, autocorrect has essentially eradicated the drunk text. Previously, when I received such messages as “PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARTEE” or “Houw aree u?” or “I drunk,” I could infer that my friend was inebriated and in need of a) a ride home, b) a breath mint or c) someone to record everything he did so his impression of T-Pain hosting “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” can be seen on YouTube by potential employers. Now, however, those messages are as lucid as can be. “Norman feels terrible,” I read, “but he has found someone else with whom to share his love of Chaucer.” Meanwhile, the texts I get from sober people read as though they were written by a Pekingese. I spent three days trying to track down a helmet and headlamp only to find out the hard way that my weekend plans with friends centered on “speed dating,” not “spelunking.” Not that wearing the helmet proved to be such a bad idea.
I worry that some people will be tempted to rely on technology to magically correct not just what they type, but what they say. Imagine your friend asks what you think of her new boyfriend and you unthinkingly tell the truth. “He reminds me of Snooki,” you respond, “in that he both looks and smells like an overripe sweet potato.” You can’t undo that damage by rushing to add, “I meant to say ‘he’s wonderful!’ Damn autocorrect.” Nor, unfortunately, will autocorrect work in class. If you say, “The War of 1812 changed the course of history when the Nazis seized Plymouth Rock,” no amount of technology can save you. (Note to non-history majors: the War of 1812 really started when the Visigoths sacked Graceland in the waning weeks of 1974.) Indeed, this kind of loose talk has already infected the Republican presidential debates. When Rick Perry announced that “evolution is a theory that’s out there,” he had to have been counting on smart technology to express his real meaning (“but not as far out there as that Herman Cain fella”).
Personally, I’m sticking with my Eisenhower-era non-smartphone (also known as a “dumbphone” or “Bidenphone”). I love being late to events because I never received the last minute email containing the location change. I glory in being able to drop my phone wherever I please, depending on its solid concrete construction to protect the screen while hopefully not breaking my toe. But most of all, I take pride in knowing that the words I type are exactly the words my friends and family will see.
So thank you, Bidenphone, for your years of service. You may be dumb, but your lack of autocorrect makes me look quite smrat.
(image taken from http://www.engadget.com/2007/07/03/iphone-review/)