Pet hate: speech recognition software that obviously looks like speech recognition software being used. I have gone to great lengths to customise my personal database to be less grammatically correct. When typing I don’t always use capital letters, as I should. For a while, I even maintained two separate databases. One for writing and a second for gaming and instant messaging. Recently I have combined the two, and instead are using more creative ways of expressing exactly what I want to appear on the page. For example, I have customised emoticons to be the variation that I prefer and have adapted to using a particular phrase, such as adding the suffix -face, to distinguish between whether it should type out the word, or the emoticon. The use of capital letter or rather my neglect for using capital letters has been the only quirk that Dragon does not encapsulate.
I love typing. There’s a sensory pleasure despite the pain when my fingers touch the keys and it’s a cold, calm and soothing thing. Typed words are concrete, the solidity of the keys rub off on them and my thoughts seem clearer and less cluttered. I think I will always begin and end my day with fingers touching keys. The slip of bone when my nervous system misjudges the distance and force required is a sharp reminder that it’s not a healthy indulgence, but one I’m not ready to let go. I secure my night splints every night with the thought that maybe if I typed a little less I wouldn’t need to anticipate that least favourite moment of the day. That moment after I turn off the laptop and before I fall asleep, when all there is, is darkness and pain and sleep is kept at bay by it and nothing can make it stop. I move past the moment when the pain becomes a rhythmic tap, indefatigable hoof-taps[*], and I think of happy thoughts, sweet dreams and good books.
I eventually fall asleep despite the aching and think, tomorrow I won’t type, but it’s a resolution worn out by use. I won’t stop typing even though I use Dragon with increased frequency as pain forces me to start and once I’ve started it’s easier to continue. I no longer turn it on or off, it’s simply always on and ready to be used as the press of a single button. I make a habit out of answering my e-mail early in the day through dictation, hoping that the habit will stick.
I couple of years ago I spent two months with my hands in casts virtually 24-hours a day. The carer responsible for helping me get dressed in the morning thought it a great novelty that everything was wired into my computer and I talked to it like I would to a person. She particularly adored the iMac as she’d come in every morning and say ‘good morning, computer, tell me a joke’ and it would oblige when she understood or alternatively, did some other random act like rebooting, turning on loud music or randomly start new programs. Cath thought this was hilarious. Speech recognition software makes the difference for me between my computer being a piece of plastic and it having a name and personality.
My anthropomorphic computer makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Most of all, it allows me a way to be normal. It’s gotten adept at understanding me even when I am short of breath and we’re finding ways to get along better every day. I’ve stopped resenting Dragon for reminding me that I can’t type as much as I’d like and instead are feeling more inclined to appreciate it for allowing me to express myself, add another level of autonomy and enable me to communicate when without it, none of these things would be possible. It’s easy to dislike aids for being visible reminders of the things that I cannot do, but it’s a better quality to be grateful that with the help of gadgets and nifty programs I get to do things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.
Words are important. Sometimes I don’t know what I think until I type it out on paper. I can dictate a great many things, form opinions, find humour and companionship in talking, but I don’t think speech recognition software will ever capture my thoughts and unguarded feelings at 2 a.m. in the morning the way my fingers do. Typing makes sense of how I experience the world more so than anything else. A great deal of my time is spent being unwell and in pain and unable to do much of anything but think and/or escape into thoughts and imaginary worlds conjured by letters on a page. I can listen to audio books or better yet, stories told for hours and it’s less lonely than reading. But it doesn’t quite work the other way around.