Monday, December 01, 2014

In your own words


In an idle moment I recently checked when I last sent a letter. September 2011 seems to be the most recent – a little over three years ago.

I know because I compose my letters in MS Word before printing them off and signing them. At least that’s what I used to do. I’ve no idea when I last sent a hand-written letter - or if I’ll ever send another. Probably not.

As you probably know, MS Word is able to correct certain spelling errors and highlight what it thinks are grammatical infelicities; as well as picking up missing punctuation or the same word written twice in succession. Such as ho ho.

Imagine a situation where this kind of automated assistance becomes a little more intrusive throughout the embedded text editors of email and social media. As with a spell checker it could highlight inappropriate words and suggest alternatives. A word such as “shit” could become slightly more difficult to write unless the digital assistant is switched off.

Maybe the loss of “shit” is no big deal, but what if the text editing software becomes still more intrusive and fiddly workarounds are needed to write the word “shit” at all. Taking it a stage further, suppose alternative phrasing is suggested whenever we leave a radical comment in the social media.

It isn’t an issue of libel, racism or whatever. There are usually existing policies for those issues. What is suggested here is more speculative. It lies in the technology and possibilities of a proximate future. A future of endlessly tightened guidance by all kinds of embedded text editors as they are tuned to our habits and to social norms.

This could occur under pressure from government bodies, pressure groups, charities and all the usual suspects - including mainstream media of course. Step by step is usually the way.

So what if one day we find our words are no longer our own?

Many won’t notice because they don’t use social media to express themselves in a radical manner. Their idle chatter is likely to remain untouched apart from digital finger-wagging over the expletives and a raised digital eyebrow when the ramblings become particularly incoherent.

What do you think?

Feel free to comment.

For now.


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Timbo614 said...

Word processors are not text editors you conflate two things.
If you are worried about such things just don't use Microsoft or mainstream proprietary programs/products. Use and support in any small way open source programs.

A K Haart said...

Timbo - I take your point but the conflation was intended to highlight the ubiquity of electronic text editing of whatever type. This blog post and our comments for example!

Wildgoose said...

The point still stands though - even if you've composed your essay using Emacs, vi or Notepad++ then when you then copy the text to your intended platform that is the point that the "Newspeak Translation" takes place.