The Future Is Now

Those of you who follow this blog are no doubt aware of how fascinated I am by how technology affects writing. (My wife says it’s just an excuse to spend money on gadgets and avoid writing!)

She may be right. Even so, I can’t help but be amazed at how things I used to dream about when I was in college are now at my fingertips.

A few weeks ago I blogged about a program that my tech pal, writer Jeff Kisseloff, showed me. It’s called Dragon Dictate. The program converts words into text. I took the plunge and ordered the program. It arrived a few days ago. I’ve been tinkering with it and learning more about it ever since.

There’s a bit of a learning curve. You have to read and refer to the manual that comes with the program. You also have to take time to read three given selections into the computer so the program can adjust to your speaking voice. After that, it’s amazingly easy.

I just returned from a visit to Our Lady of the Snows School in Reno, Nevada. Several children sent me some great questions through the Ask Eric section of my website. I used Dragon Dictate to answer them. I thought that would give me an opportunity to try out the program in a real writing setting.

How did it do? A-plus! The words appeared on my computer screen with 98% accuracy. The biggest problem appeared when a child’s name had an unconventional spelling. I’m sure there’s a way to solve that problem. I’ll have to go back to the manual. Other than that, the program printed text more accurately than I could enter it myself on the keyboard—and I am a fast, accurate typist!

If it seemed a bit slow, it was because I was speaking slowly, testing the accuracy of the program. When I consciously speeded up my dictation, the Dragon kept right up with me. Spelling, by the way, is accurate, too. There were only a couple of errors in the case of homonyms: “to,” “two,” and “too.”

I can’t wait to attempt writing a story with Dragon Dictate. I wonder how a program like this will affect the creative process. I intend to find that out soon.

Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about the implications of programs like Dragon Dictate, which will only become more accurate and more powerful in the future. Schools no longer teach handwriting because children do their writing on computer or smart phone keyboards. They no longer drill math facts because children have access to calculators. They no longer teach spelling because children have access to Spell Check.

What happens when children have access to Dragon Dictate or similar text-to-speech programs?

Will anyone teach writing at all?

(By the way, I wrote this blog entry with Dragon Dictate. My fingers never touched the keyboard.)

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