Sunday, March 10, 2019

Of auto correction, Cyber-slang and technology chauvinism

My recent whatsapp conversation with a college friend of mine did not go very well. I was totally baffled and was fumbling to even understand what she was talking. The jargon and the chat acronyms she used were so much that for every reply of her I had to Google to find out what it actually meant. To save myself from embarrassment, here is an edited version of the conversation:

She: Tejjjjjj! Lngtym. Hw ya doin?
Me: Heyyy Rosh! I am good! How are you? Real long time. Last time we met was in 2008 I guess
She: IKR!
Me: ** Long pause** What are you up to?
She: M gd. Settled in US for now. But its AFU life here. Hey, DYK wr Sandy s?
Me: **Long pause** He is in Singapore
She: DAFUQ? I was der for like 8Y man! DUR our coll days?
Me: **Long pause** Yeah. Good old days J
She: Hey Y u tkn so lng to rply?
Me: Frankly, I am trying to catch up with your net lingo. Google’s not helping either: P
She: Roflmao! K. GTG. Buhbyeee. XOXOZZZ

Throughout the conversation, I had this weird feeling that she is bi-lingual, speaking English and in another language called Cyber slang, unknown to me for which I was replying only in English. It felt weird and awkward. At the end of it, I was not sure if I was really happy we spoke after a long time. I kept thinking about it for a very long time. It was then I realized that I too am a victim of this text lingo to a certain extent. Oblivious to my own conscience, I found that I end up writing ‘thru’ for ‘through’; ‘n’ for ‘and’, ‘tomo’ for ‘tomorrow’ and so on.

Ideally, with all the digital communication platforms and the world of internet at our fingertips, our vocabularies should have been expanding, isn’t it? But it looks like it is not the case. Considering the exposure which my dad and grandpa had to literature and books, I definitely have an edge over them. But I can assertively say that my grandpa and my dad have better vocabularies than that of mine. I just paid a little more attention to what they did differently than us. I had my answers within days.

At workplace, very often, I am required to review the requirement specification documents as part of my job. For the records, requirement specification is a document which lists the detailed description of how a software feature is expected to work. My most preferred way of checking for grammar and spelling correctness is MS word spell checker. Is it that I cannot do it without it? Most certainly not. But this gives me a quick overview of what needs correction and lists it out for me, boom! my job is done within a short time. On the contrary, my dad, even to this day, proof reads an entire article using his brains and eyes only. No, he does not depend on spell check. His brain is processing it for him since 50 years; which is to say that his vocabulary is getting stronger and sharper every day. It does not surprise me that my dad is called ‘walking dictionary’ in his office.Whereas for me; since the computer is doing it, the computer is getting smarter. Oh, the machine learning. In other words, the machine is getting smarter everyday by making us dumb, you dumber.

Auto correction
Whatsapp has become the de-facto standard for all sorts of communication. Text, Images, audio, documents and whatsoever format that it supports, the texting which is widely used, comes with a serious issue tagged with it called Auto correction. When I have interacted with acquaintances, there were disastrous moments of me trying to say something but ended up saying something else. I strongly have a feeling that they think I am some third grade dropout who cannot even form basic sentences. Few disasters due to auto correction were beyond repair; like the ones below:
  • ·         Did you see Urine? Don’t miss.. Sorry Urine.. I mean URI.. Goddammit!
  • ·         Hi Practice… What??? Sorry. I meant Prachi.. Ugh!
  • ·         May be Dick by Hermaphrodite Melvin (While discussing about Moby-dick by Herman Melville)
  • ·         Heyy.. Finally I found my GSPOT.. errrr.. GPS (She had fainted by then I guess)
  • ·         I am yet to finish writing. I am a prostitute (I wanted to say Procrastinator.. Argghhhhh)
  • ·         I once told my wife “I really want to meet you. But you are so damn fat” (She called me even before I said FAR not fat)
ducking autocorrection
The most famous auto correction problem on iPhone

My grandpa never had all these problems because from Bhadravati to Bangalore, he used to send telegrams, wrote wonderful letters and he himself typed his messages on postcards using a typewriter. He even sent us handmade greeting cards on various occasions. On the other hand, The Roget’s Thesaurus 1941 edition and the Rev. F. Kittel’s 1894 edition of Kannada-English dictionary copies at home are almost in worn-out state with torn illustrations and title page re-joined with an adhesive tape. I can even see a few printing mistakes corrected with a pen. They are perhaps telling a lexicon tale that we are not willing to believe. 
Kannada to English dictionary
A very old Kittel's Kannada to English dictionary
With Auto correction, auto-complete and other such tools, the flexibility in the language usage is lost by a huge magnitude. It is true that words don’t get their meanings from dictionaries. They get their meanings from how they are contextually used by writers and speakers. The more speakers and writers conform to suggestions by machines, the less creative the language becomes. Do you remember elders in your family asking you to read “The Hindu” and “classic literature” to enhance your English vocab? Now you know why.

The postcard typed by my grandfather when my father was born - Year 1946

Genetics and Language
Have you ever noticed this about yourself or someone around you? If you did your schooling in Kannada Medium, there is high possibility that, even to this day, you’ll do all the basic math (addition, subtraction and multiplication) in Kannada, way faster than English. Now there are demonstrated research works that claim our linguistic capabilities are directly linked to our genetic predisposition. So inclination towards technology for everything is more serious condition than it actually is.

Over dependence on technology has already done enough damage to our daily lives. Call me old school, but I really don’t like technology invading our private lives so much that it obliterates our ability to learn and master a language. There is a dire need to limit our dependency and put a stop to chauvinism that we are showing towards Auto correction, auto complete and cyber slang. Let our linguistic capability remain intact and do not obtuse us.