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Dictation Is Not Writing

I like to think I’m a decent writer: able to convey information clearly, be evocative – maybe even provocative – while the clickety-clacks make the words slide onto the screen.

I’ve been doing an experiment lately in an effort to be a *fast* writer: I’m dictating lots of my writing using OSX’s built-in speech-to-text, and Google’s Voice Keyboard on my Android phone. And it’s been going okay all in all – I’m not able to speak faster than I can type, and I lose even more time having to go back and correct words and especially punctuation.

But I think that’s to be expected. It’s not good enough to use instead of a keyboard, but it’s good enough to feel like it’s the future, and if I can just get better at being understood by these machine, my speed will eventually surpass my typing speed.

The dictation seems better on Android, which is why I’ve started using it to dictate emails as well. I can dictate a few words at a time in almost real-time, as long as I’m keeping it short. It’s a real boon to productivity, especially when driving or I’m busy with the kids.

But I’ve decided to *stop dictating emails*, maybe forever.

Dictating to a machine, and the effort to be understood by speech-to-text algorithms, must be deactivating parts of my brain – parts that make me a good writer. Because whoever is dictating these emails from me? That guy’s a *dick*.

My emails that start out as dictations are terse, full of conjecture, and even rude. Customer service? Out the window. Nuanced emotional content? None to be found. Human empathy? Zero. I’ve even had to eat crow and apologize for sounding accusatory or just plain *mean* to friends and coworkers.

Now, I don’t want to disparage the fine folks making speech-to-text. Not only is it a boon for people with disabilities, but also poor typists who now need to use computers for the first time in their careers, and this technology *is the future*. Keyboards as a human input device are showing their age, but now I see that so am I.

I’ve realized today that I’m just like that septuagenarian texting for the first time – you know what I mean – WRITING IN ALL CAPS EVEN THOUGH IT MEANS YELLING – using ellipses… all the time… instead of real punctuation… – or actually using capitalization and punctuation like it’s a handwritten letter. They are not able to convey meaning within the cultural context of the chosen medium. I write good emails with my fingers. I write bad emails with my voice. And it’s *so* bad that I’m not even interested in getting better.

So, in another 33 years, look for me; I’ll be the guy with the mechanical keyboard attached to his neural transmitter or whatever.

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