Christina Patterson: Predicting the perils of predictive text

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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.

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