Christina Patterson: Predicting the perils of predictive text

Share
Related Topics

At a packed audience at a London theatre last year, Seamus Heaney announced that he was a big fan of predictive text. The Nobel laureate who has, for nearly 50 years, been "digging" (according to his most famous poem) with his "squat pen" now, it seems, taps away at his handset like a bored teenage boy. C u 2moro! GBT! 4Q m8! Well, perhaps not that.

Personally, I like my texts non-predictive, nicely punctuated and correctly spelled. A semi-colon is always a nice touch. A smiley face is not. If I want to indicate wit, I will rely on the words to do it. And if someone feels the need to highlight LOL then I'll probably conclude that they don't have much of a GSOH. But these, THX 2 God, are questions of taste. They are not questions about the primal functioning of the human brain. Or at least, not yet.

Soon, they might be. "The use of mobile phones is changing the way children learn," says Professor Michael Abramson, who has conducted a study into mobile phone use of children aged between 11 and 14, "and pushing them to become more impulsive". The children who used mobiles a lot, and particularly predictive text, were, apparently, "a lot faster on some of the tests" but also "less accurate".

This, I think we can safely say, is not good news. Speed is great when it comes to whizzing round the house with a Hoover or knocking up a tasty supper for six, but it's not so great when it comes to calculating the GDP of a country, or doing a heart transplant, or planning a war. It's not even so great (and I say this as someone who once discovered that a car park attendant's nickname for me was Nigel Mansell) in a car. Speed is lovely, but in almost anything you can think of, it's accuracy that matters. Accuracy and thought.

We already know that calculators have robbed anyone under the age of 35 of the ability to count beyond ten and that satnavs have produced a generation who would rather drive into a ditch than look at a map (which would, in any case, be like decoding linear B) and that the internet has produced a generation that can't look things up in books, and expects all information to be instant and free and won't buy newspapers and will kill the thing that you are, at this moment, reading.

We already know that we want everything – responses to our emails, responses to our texts, chocolate muffins, thinner thighs, money, success – right here, right now. We know all this, and we also know that we have created a political culture so symbiotically dependent on a 24/7 media monster that policy, and strategy, and all the things that might enable the complex organism of a society to function well, are sacrificed to the soundbite.

We know this, but we don't seem to be prepared to do anything about it. We don't seem to be prepared to tell the 93 per cent of our population that is educated in the state system that acquiring knowledge, or skills, or wisdom, is difficult but rewarding, and that understanding science, or maths, or languages, or literature is a process that takes time. We don't seem to be prepared to tell them that writing a text message is easy, but writing a poem isn't.

I think Seamus Heaney will be all right. I think, if we're lucky, predictive text won't fry his brain. I think he'll be all right because he's no spring chicken and grew up on a farm and spent most of his life doing something very, very difficult and very, very painstaking and very, very slow. And, BTW, if I can have a mobile phone that predicts the rhythms, and music, and genius, of Heaney, then please count me in.

The big, big issue for female politicians

Join the world of politics as a woman and you'll have to address a burning question. Too big? Too small? Too open? Too buttoned up? Redacted or not redacted? I'm talking, of course, about mammary glands. Jacqui Smith adopted a let-it-all-hang-out policy, which unfortunately extended to her expenses. Hazel Blears preferred to draw attention away with a pretty badge.

Angela Merkel, like Hillary Clinton, favours the full cover-up. High-neck shirt and sober trouser suit, but perhaps in a bright colour to show you're not a man.

It seems a bit unfair, then, that the one occasion she didn't, on a trip to the opera, should haunt her. At the opening of the Oslo Opera House last year, she wore (as any well-mannered German matron might) a posh frock, cut to reveal her assets. In a move that will foster the impression that all female German politicians are manufactured in the same highly efficient Hamburg factory, Merkel's impressive emboinpoint is being flashed around Berlin, alongside that of fellow Christian Democratic Union MP Vera Lengsfeld. Hovering strategically over both is the slogan, "We have more to offer". "I needed to come up with something to be noticed," said a slightly defensive Mrs Lengfeld.

Mrs Merkel was not consulted about the poster, but will, I'm sure, rise above it. She is indeed a woman of substance: sensible, grown-up, clever and calm. She makes our own women politicians look like mediocre pygmies. And no, Hazel, I'm not talking about height.

Do I look bovvered? Not if I’m a bee

If it wasn't bad enough getting ourselves up and washed and dressed and fed and dragging ourselves to work and paying our bills and doing the weekly shop and putting out the rubbish (and sorting it out into about 10 different piles so our tax-guzzling council doesn't fine us) we've now got to worry about bees.

They too, apparently, are stressed and knackered. So stressed and knackered that they're not even bothering to make it home any more, they're just stopping what they're doing and lying down.

But we can help. According to the RSPB (which has more than five times as many members as the Labour party) we should all be perking them up with little pick-me-ups and snacks. Not honey, apparently, which may contain nasty viruses (and would, in any case, be weirdly postmodern). Not Lucozade or Red Bull, which would make them manic, and not brown sugar, which plays havoc with their digestive system. Just a plain sugary drink.

Bloody hell! Whatever happened to the Dunkirk spirit? What happened to the work ethic, and persistence and perseverance? What happened to role models? Now, it seems, we've even got the bees – lazy, fussy and scarily unfit – that we deserve.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory