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Frictional texts

Those of us who use our phones to text or email on a regular basis have at one time or another been the victim of an accidentally autocorrected error. This text (from an online gallery that shall remain nameless due to its inappropriate but supposedly authentic examples) is a relatively harmless illustration of what can happen when the technology goes off track. It’s the reason why we regard autocorrect, for all of its time-serving benefits, with a wary unease.

To be sure, like many of the technologies dedicated to removing friction from communication, autocorrect has become ensconced in our repertoire of smartphone assistants and helpers, alongside Siri, autodialing and more. In theory, it’s a no-brainer—fixing our mistakes before we notice, helping human fingers adapt to tiny touchscreens, and streamlining the process of connecting with friends, family and co-workers.

In practice, of course, accidents abound. And because mistake-ridden missives can jeopardize our relationships with other people (it’s one thing to send an accidentally suggestive text to a friend, but quite another to send it to a superior at work), our relationship with autocorrect itself is shaky at best. Indeed, the technology seems at times to hinder our ability to connect with ogres as much as it helps. (sorry—“others”. Darn you, autocorrect!)

Of course there are tips and tricks that can help. For instance, iPhone users can use the Text Replacement feature to create shortcuts for frequently used words and phrases. Android users can toggle the degree of autocorrection applied to their typing, and may also experience fewer offensive texts due to the default setting on Google Keyboard that blocks offensive words.

As with much digital technology, it can also help to remember how the app technology is programmed to work, (or as it were, think.) Each time you correct an autocorrected word, the app is supposed to remember the user-corrected version, so it doesn't keep repeating its mistakes. Thus, the more you correct autocorrect, the better it will correct you.

On the other hand, it all seems a bit backward. Isn't it the job of the technology to try to anticipate how we think? Should we have to work this hard? It’s surely a problem that developers will continue to address, and ultimately come closer to solving, although some gap between typist and technology will probably always remain, as long as our ability to say new things outpaces the ability of our smartphones’ algorithms to anticipate them.

Until then, the best we can do is to persevere, trusting that our phones will learn a little more about our intentions with each new keystroke, and to enjoy a laugh or two when the app reveals its shortcomings.

Do you have a favorite example of an awkwardly autocorrected text?

About the author

Connie O'Brien

As CMO, Connie is responsible for the Tungsten Network brand and ensuring the firm is at the forefront of the digital transformation of the purchase-to-pay process, with a focus on how we delight our customers through automated, scalable, dynamic and personalised experiences. Connie joined Tungsten from Affinion Group, an international membership and loyalty company where she was Chief Digital Officer. She has over twenty years’ experience driving digital marketing strategies for businesses, and has delivered campaigns for brands including GlaxoSmithKline, P&G, Kraft Foods, AXA, John Hancock, AT&T, Vonage and Verizon.

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