Today has been a pretty rotten day and had elements in this that I will blog about some other time. As a result of the way the day turned out, I don’t have a lot of energy to write about some deep compelling philosophically technological issue (or is that technologically philosophical?) I can’t work up the inspiration to point people to some cool application of internet technologies. So this week I’ll keep it short, simple and talk about something that is simple: words. More specifically, how we prepare them for presentation.
Words are the primary means of human communication. Never mind all the talk about body language. It is words spoken, words written down, that are the vehicle of human communication. In today’s information age the principal medium of communicating words or rather of preparing words and recording them for communication is typing. We do a lot of typing. I mean a LOT of typing. The future of computing is voice and eventually thought (i.e. brain impulse) controlled systems. We already have voice activated control of our phones. Software like Dragon Naturally Speaking and Windows Vista are now empowering us to control our computers by speaking to them. However for now we do a huge amount of typing. Emails. Web pages. Blogs. Newspapers. Posters. Handbills. Twittering. The world is driven by the words we type into our computers. Our world is text.
If anything I have said is even half-true, then why oh why do so few people use the spellchecker in their software before unleashing their words upon us? Maybe it doesn’t bother most people, but it does bother me. I pick up a Nigerian newspaper and I am distracted by the spelling and grammatical errors. I visit a Nigerian web site and it’s just as bad. The grammar problems I can live with (sort of). The grammar checkers in most software (OK in Microsoft Office) are often as much a hindrance as they are a help. The fine nuances between what is “fragment” and whether to use a comma or a semi-colon can be lost on the best of us. Nevertheless, there is no excuse not to press “F7” (or whatever the spellchecker shortcut is) on your computer before you show the world the product of your typing.
Some might suggest I can talk like this because I have a fairly good grasp of the language, but that isn’t the point. In my typing I make as many mistakes as everyone else. My errors can actually be worse. I think much faster than I type so I often leave out whole words in my typed sentences that are only caught when I go back and re-read the text, sometimes not until the third or fourth reading. What I am talking about is using the most basic of tools (F7, F7, F7) available in modern software, even in web browsers like Google Chrome to make our handiwork a little better, a little neater and a whole lot more literate looking.
In the great scheme of things does it really matter? We live in a much more complex world than we used to. The Queen’s English doesn’t have the cachet it used to anymore. All of a sudden, the street slang of 50 Cent is as legitimate as the superior lexicon of Wole Soyinka. Yet it does matter. Pick your language. English. Yoruba. Urhobo. Chinese. Every language (perhaps even patois like our very own pidgin) has standards and structures that have been agreed on over time as the way the language should be written for communicating information and ideas. For some of those languages at least, those standards and structures are captured in the software we use and that software goes some way to helping us frame our ideas better. Whether in “Waffi” or Washington, there is a way the society you relate with declares you to be articulate and more and more of the software we use enable us be articulate.
Your correct use of whatever language you have to work with in your culture will elevate you. By culture I mean everything from the gathering of elders in the village square, the green domed temple of the Nigerian Legislature, the street corner of the hard-eyed area boys, the professional offices of my company’s IT department, the Russian Politburo or a US “wrap party”. Correct use, properly spelled words, I say will make it easier to understand you, will make you think better, elucidate your ideas more clearly. They will make you appear better at whatever you claim to be doing, will give you access to places others may not have access to. Making the effort can improve your attention to detail and help make you think through your ideas better.
While we do not yet have Yoruba, Urhobo or pidgin dictionaries to plug into our word processors (not that I know of, and I am too tired to google or Wikipedia it) at least the English language dictionary is available in Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org and accessible by the press of a single button (F7, F7, F7, F7 – get it yet?). Many of these tools will highlight the misspelled words. Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo Mail can be set to auto spell-check emails before you send then. Blogger will let you run a spell-check before you post.
In short, use the spellchecker. Often. Before you click “send” in the next email, read it through a couple of times. Look for those missing words. Re-arrange those sentences. Then press (all together now) F7. And bless us with your words.
As long as we are talking about words, the roar of silence in the comments section of each of my blog posts is quite deafening. It would be really, really cool if you quieted things down a bit by tossing a few words my way occasionally. It would be even cooler if you shared my blog by hitting your favourite one of the buttons below.