Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A synaptic jungle

When I'm juggling many things at once, unable (or unwilling...possibly, maybe) to let any of them fall, focusing my thoughts long enough to finish any one thing seems far harder. I like to think that I do my best work when I focus, but that would mean that I'm not doing my best work.  A bit of a conundrum.

Some of the disconnected thoughts about which I've made notes to write:

Why is it that each generation thinks itself the only source of significant invention or creation?  As though some cosmic vacuum allows current-generation brilliance to spring forth, absent any antecedent?  The two recent examples on my mind are abbreviated communication and voice recognition technology.

Twitter is the pinnacle of short-form abbreviation, challenging the witty and erudite to create brilliance in 140 characters (114, if you include a link).  And texting has created an entirely new way of (non)spelling and (non)punctuation.

Yet, e.e. cummings (who lived from 1894 until 1962) eschewed punctuation throughout a lengthy literary life and in Twitter+64, Orville Wright announced the first successful powered December 1903.  Wright used a pay-per-character invention called the telegram:

Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas.

And what about about sophisticated voice-recognition technology that allows the spoken word to be "translated" into the written word?  In a meeting (one of way too many) recently, one colleague word-smithed for another this way:
" parentheses for faculty who do not have access close parentheses period new sentence..."
With age and experience, we've breached the gap between anachronism and cutting-edge cool.  Those of us old enough to have dictated reports or other communication into an old-fashioned technology are the ones most capable of effectively using the new technology.  For voice recognition software to produce something other than comically-inaccurate renderings (pay close attention, sometime, to the closed captions on live news stories), the speaker needs several skills in short supply today: proper grammar, punctuation, and pronunciation (diction, to the elderly among us), plus the ability to translate all of those into spoken narrative "on the fly" as it were.

The paradox of new innovation.