Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whither teh typo? Damn you, Lion autocorrect!

I just upgraded the operating system on my MacBook Pro from Snow Leopard to Lion. Immediately, I notice some big changes. My first reaction is that my computer has got a lot ... faster. Next, I am completely discombobulated by the reversal of the scrolling interface: instead of the direction of my swiping fingers matching the direction of the scroll bar, the new "natural" scrolling works like on my iPad and my iPhone, which is to say it mimics the direction of the content.

Yeah. I turned that off for a couple of days until I felt better able to cope.

The most serious change, unexpectedly, is Lion's vaunted cross-everything autocorrect. I'm not sure I like it. Because it takes my typos and turns them into something new and different.

I like when "teh" gets autocorrected to "the." Not so much, though, when "shit" becomes "shot" or "loooooooveyou" turns into "lollygagging" or "effect" into "effete." As we all know, autocorrect makes some hilarious mistakes, viz This is super annoying on the phone, where undoing the auto-'corrections' interrupts the flow of thinking and is in any case sometimes nearly impossible to alter. And between my clumsy thumbs typing things incorrectly, and autocorrect further mangling my intentions? Comes my all-purpose apology / sigfile: "Sent from my iPhone."

"Sent from my iPhone" is my catchall excuse for mangled typing--it's not, I'm trying to tell my readers through this sigfile, that my thinking or my spelling are wrong, it's that my damn thumbs and this damn software just can't capture it very well in a timely fashion.

I always forgive people the weirdness of their "Sent from my iPhone" emails, the same way I cut slack to unintentionally illiterate text messages: people are communicating under suboptimal conditions and I adjust my expectations around grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and flair accordingly.

The problem for me, now, is that autocorrect has jumped from just mangling my text messages and brief emails, to mangling my everything: blog posts, real emails, comments on blogs, and all the rest of it. And with no "Sent from my iPhone" sigfile excusing the strange diction that can sometimes result, I feel weirdly exposed: my understandable occasional typo online turns into inexcusable lapses in vocabulary, sense, spelling with the intrusion of this new "feature."

I find I have to bring a new and different kind of vigilance to my writing online from my main computer now: I used to scan briefly for typos before posting a comment on a blog for example, but now I'm a lot more careful to make sure an autocorrect howler hasn't distorted my meaning in a way that makes me look potentially wackadoo to non-Lion users.

So the upshot? Lion has called an end to the innocent typographical error, and replaced it, I think, with the more insidious semantic errors introduced by an autocorrect that's almost always less smart than the writer it's scolding.

We'll all get used to this in a couple of months, I imagine: we always do. But it's interesting for me to think about the social norms around correctness and errors in online communication, social norms that were maybe not 100% explicitly clear to me until Lion went and disrupted it all.


  1. I use Dragon Dictation (free app) on the iPhone to compose messages, then cut and paste into email or text or sms. It makes way fewer mistakes than typing and autocorrect, even if it can't seem to learn how to spell my name.

  2. Watch out Stephen, or you'll get me going on about the %&*%^$ accent in my first name.

    I'm looking forward to upgrading my iPhone to one that is Siri-enabled: i'm so hoping i'll have to do less auto-corrected typing ...

  3. As a student explained to me, she had written "Dalhousie" university, not the "Doll-house" I received....