Toussaint column: Text messages make foils of us all
In early summer, my friend Jae Gregory texted me to hurry to Lowe’s lest I miss the sale on “old-fashioned panties.” Perfect for the flowerpots on my deck!
Of course, Jae meant PANSIES. But autocorrect makes fools of us all by making us say things we didn’t Nintendo.
Before smartphones, I regarded phones with suspicion, the way I view that Nigerian prince who claims there’s a fortune waiting if you’ll just front him a couple thousand. Because I’m hearing impaired, I don’t conduct business over the phone. The likelihood of misunderstanding numbers, dollars and dates is high, the odds receiving scam calls even higher.
But text messages changed everything. Quick and understandable, they transformed the way I personify my phone. Now, rather than regarding it as a slippery con man, I regard it more as a solicitous, but socially awkward, maiden aunt.
For example, my friend Lynette DeNike, a fine writer and damned articulate person, complains, “Autocorrect on my tablet is an ongoing battle. It was easily disabled on my laptop, but seems to be an integral ‘feature’ for Samsung handheld devices. It wants to prohibit my cursing. The only vices I have left are cursing and artificial sweeteners!”
Voice recognition is everywhere, so I should clarify that what I’m chuckling about are text messages dictated to my smartphone. Both iPhones and Androids can take dictation, but tech pundits generally report that Apple’s voice recognition is more accurate.
Apple’s Siri was the first voice assistant in major release. Premiered in 2011, it’s now integrated into iPhones, iPads, the AppleWatch, Macs and Apple TV. Many early users expressed frustration at Siri’s misinterpretation of voice commands, but Apple’s voice recognition is now reportedly approaching the level of human accuracy. (Better than I hear on the phone.)
Until I started research for this column, I hadn’t realized that my Macbook would take dictation. I read it a couple stanzas of Jabberwocky, and got this: “beware the jabber walk my son the jobs that bite the claws that catch beware the job Joe Bird mention that from me to spend or snatch”
That’s pretty impressive, considering all the nonsense words that have to be rendered using phonics.
Although my Android can’t compete with my Mac for accuracy, the phone provides more entertainment. Its howlers prompt me to wonder how the program works. I assume it makes educated guesses based on how often words are used in conversation. Smartphones also learn their owners’ vocabularies; mine now knows that I frequently mention Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
However, my phone seems so unexplainably preoccupied with genitalia, bodily functions and the devil, I’m going to have to revise my previous characterization of it: It’s not a maiden aunt. It’s a hormone-plagued adolescent.
A quick Internet search shows that my experience is common. A few examples:
“My horny asian was bigger than expected” (It was really a herniation)
“Do you want chicken vaginas for dinner?” (Actually, chicken fajitas)
Then there was this exchange:
“I saw your penis for sale on Craigslist. Is it still available?”
“I’m thinking of keeping that; I’m selling my Prius.”
“Apologies – this is a new phone.”
“Well, it IS Craigslist, so you never know.”
These examples prompted me to ask friends what they experienced. Glenda Leatherman wrote, “As it turns out, I am quite the glandular girl. Changes my name ‘Glenda’ to ‘glands.’ At least it wasn’t ‘gonad’!”
Stanette Rose’s phone regularly changes her name to “Satan.” Autocorrect does the same thing to Rachel Mulry’s son’s name. She and her husband got so they would regularly exchange texts about their son Sagan saying things like “Satan is finally asleep.”
Kristi Van Pernis’ surname usually falls victim to the phone’s fascination with genitalia.
Cara Lynch was giving directions to her house. They came out, “On the right. It’s the one with all the dicks.”
Sarah Rankin Gordon kept trying to text her husband to say, “My doctor recommended bloodwork.” The phone repeatedly changed the message to “My doctor recommended bloodworm.”
Kate Friesen, the “trailboss” of a local Western music group, writes, “It’s really, really hard to write in cowboy talk whenever I send out messages to the Cowboy Corral! Never wants me to drop a g when I wanna say ropin’ an tyin’. Git along little dogies becomes get along little doggies — who talks like that?”
All in all, I think the following exchange, found in a collection online, nails it:
“I saw an earthquake on CNN. You okay?”
“What did it rate on the titty scale?”
“They only jiggled a bit, so probably not that high.”
“Ha, ha, ha. I meant Richter scale. My phone is a 12-year-old boy.”
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly.
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