Sunday, April 03, 2011

Smart phones are too smart

With the ubiquity of smart phones and the ability to respond to emails using those little (often virtual) keyboards it's not uncommon (at least in my experience) for people to have a message automatically appended to the emails sent from the devices that identify that situation and ask forgiveness from the recipient(s) for any "typos."

For the longest time this intrigued me. While I imagined the subtext of the message was "these stupid keys are too small for my big fingers"—which, let's be fair, is an odd thing to actively imply with every email sent—but the deeper message seemed to be "hey, you should just be happy I bothered to respond at all and not expect me to actually bother to make sure these words are correct" or "I don't know how to run a spell check on this device and I'm too lazy or technologically inept to figure it out." I also wondered if the implication of wanting the errors in the text of messages because they sent from the mobile device meant that in messages sent while one was a computer with a full keyboard (and, presumably, easier spell checking capability) any errors there should be mercilessly mocked.

In short, every possible interpretation of that disclaimer (of sorts) that the phone included at the end of the text was an admission of a larger failing. Frankly, I thought it would be better just to embrace one's flubs and not bother with that at the end of emails, because it really wasn't helping to ask for special treatment.

That was before I had a smart phone of my own.

Now that I've composed with those little keyboards, and have used the apps for replying to emails on the device, I have a slightly different perspective.

First, this may be taking things too literally, but in my experience "typing" suggests one learned how to position one's fingers on the "home keys" and be able to push the key for the necessary character without having to look at the keys; that's "typing." What we do on these phones demands looking at the little keys, and, at best, involves two fingers. That's not "typing." So errors made while doing so are not really "typographic" and thus not "typos," but I'll concede there's no better term to use if one has, in fact, pressed the wrong key without realizing it.

However, quibbling those semantics aside, from using the apps in question I find that when a message goes out with text I did not intend it's not because I pressed a wrong letter key; it's because the "autocorrect" function has changed what I spelled to a completely different word that it assumed is what I was trying to compose and I didn't catch that it did so. So if there's any disclaimer necessary it should be "Please excuse how this damn thing thinks it knows what I'm trying to say and changes words on me unless I specifically force it to stick with what I intended. But I'm too baffled by the settings to figure out how to disable that function, so here's hoping what you got is reasonably coherent and any and need to interpret what was meant from what was sent is not too challenging. Isn't modern communication grand?"

However, that's probably a bit much to append to a message, so I guess we'll live with "typo" connoting any unintended part of the transmission.


  1. By Jove, I think you've coined a term for our age. Expect it to be stolen.


So, what do you think?