Columns, Opinion

WHITING: On Autocorrection Woes

I  hate text-message abbreviations. I’ll use them to be facetious or post-modern or if I’m seriously determined to not waste 0.004 seconds of my overcommitted life on a few superfluous members of the alphabet. But when my love interest Facebook messages me, “How r u?” I cringe, and want to answer, “Ask me again with real words, or we’re through.”

(I’m half-kidding.) Maybe it’s an English major pet peeve. Maybe I should limit my social circle to fellow followers of But bros and sistas of the most intelligent species on the planet: you have keyboards. Use them. Abbrevs are so T9.

Some months ago, I got an iPhone — mostly for the maps function, quick Wikipedia access and Instagram action. You’ve all been enjoying these perks for a long time, which means you know about the perk that is autocorrect and about how generally great it is.  Generally great. Most of the time it’s only half-helpful, and I find I’m always correcting my autocorrect. Recent examples include “Lol” always turning into “Lok” and “Yayyy” turning into “tatty” and, for some reason, my phone deciding that tonight is spelled “tonifht.”

Also, always, always, whenever I try to say “haha” it turns into “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA” and I’m like, “Yo wtf phone, my friend’s comment wasn’t that funny. You’re making me look ridiculous.” These are bad examples (sorry, I don’t have time to scroll through my hundreds of cyber conversations — woe is me), but since you’re all more tech-savvy than I, you know what I mean. There are websites devoted to autocorrect tribulations.

True, the function can at least predict spelling. Which I appreciate, even though it’s relitavley wlel kwnon taht splelnig dosen’t matetr, that as long as the beginning and the last letter of a word are placed correctly, you can just shove the rest of the letters in between and your message will be legible. The same probably goes for sentences. And thank goodness, too, or I’d never have been comprehensible to the natives when I was living in France.

But the mistakes that arise from a robot thinking it’s smarter than you give new meaning to the language of texting. A. because you have no excuse for using “u” and “r” and B. because correct spelling is expected and C. because an autocorrect can be pretty awful, so you sometimes have to be smarter than a robot (e.g. despite the millennial language crisis, our brains have use, and we have not yet lost the importance of human touch).

My sister is a mechanical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University. Math classes for me, meanwhile, should get me foreign language credit. I visited her recently and sat in on her thermodynamics class, in which I tried with no avail whatsoever to follow a genius foreign professor dance across four different chalkboards in equation heaven. I took a picture.

“Are you seriously Instagramming that?” asked my sister. (Instagram is a verb, you know.)

She rolled her eyes and went back to her notes.

The topic of the day was a concept called entropy. Deciding I would otherwise learn nothing from the constant slew of unfamiliar symbols and numbers ahead of me, I punched the word in my app so I could follow, in the remotest of remote ways, what was going on.

Didn’t get it. I had to Wiki it (also a verb). I think (and I’ve spoken to no quantum mechanic for verification, mind you) that the basic definition boils down to this: entropy is “a logarithmic measure of the rate of transfer of information in a particular message or language.” It measures unpredictability — or, more specifically, measures the loss of information in a transmitted message.

Or something. Anyway, it got me thinking about the unpredictability of communication, about the idea that how you are perceived in conversation is as much up to the person you’re speaking with as it is to you. What people hear is dangerously subjective. So when you throw out a remark, you can hardly calculate lost information and resulting responses.

This is why Thanksgiving dinners make for a lot of apprehension, because you never know just how much a comment from your Democrat uncle will upset your Republican Grandfather, etc.

But can we reduce the nuances of human communication to an equation? To ponder that would go over my word limit.  What I can ponder is how this unpredictability increases when you limit communication to text messages, autocorrected or otherwise. It’s hard enough to understand each other in person, what with how you say things being as important as what you say. My sister can’t speak sarcasm or hyperbole in real life, let alone in text form. That’s why when texting, you need to use an exorbitant amount of winks or exclamation points to transmit your enthusiasm through a million invisible airwaves all the way to your friend’s inbox. And even then, you’ll never quite know what the other person will read. It’s a huge convenience, but a terrible loss.

I’m preaching basic truths, thermodynamical or otherwise, that you all already know. I’m a columnist, not a conversational or linguistic genius. Kk, thx, ttyl.


Anne Whiting is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].

One Comment

  1. Kubs Avatramani