Magazine

Love thy enema

Illustration: Satwik Gade  

I hear that Android cell phones and iPads are leading to a lot of broken relationships. I don’t mean those old days when people discovered amorous texts sent to spouses by secret lovers. These are all sincere loving messages from husband to wife, girlfriend to boyfriend…which an evil fiend called Auto Correct is totally messing up.

Consider what my pal Mona got from Shyam, her long distance boyfriend: “You are too fat. It’s getting more painful by the day”.  Mona doesn’t believe it was a devil inside the phone that turned the word ‘far’ to ‘fat’ and Shyam wasn’t sending her an indirect message.

And here’s what Rajiv got after his fiancé left on an overseas assignment: “Decided to stay in hotel bed all day. Must be some Germans I picked up in the plane.”

And here we are, thinking: Hey! Look how a smart phone is helping me cut time! It even thinks and types the rest of the word. In fact a study showed that on an average this function saved 22 seconds from every text sent — time that could be spent usefully for other things in life.

But I find I now spend an extra four minutes on every message, checking, back-spacing, re-typing, re-reading anything I send out, in morbid fear.  Especially after what happened a month ago to my colleague Harish. He was in a rush that morning, but didn’t postpone sending his sympathies to a former office pal, who had just lost his dear father. “Just heard the sad news. I offer you my condoms”.

He’s wondering if he can sue some genius in Palo Alto who created the evil algorithm to turn the intended word ‘condolences’ into ‘condoms’ .

During the low-technology era, i.e. the years before 2010, we relied on a good old assistant in our comps called the ‘Spellchecker’ that gave us alternatives to pick from, and it was still in our control to change the word or not. For instance, when I typed “Hi Chetan!” to a lawyer friend of mine, ‘Spellchecker’, which hates Indian names, would underline it in red and prompt me to correct that to “Hi Cheat!” Or when I typed “Dear Shoba Aunty”, ‘Spellchecker’ suggested I perhaps meant Dear Cobra Aunty.

But then came revolutionary advances in messaging with phones and tablets being able to read our thoughts and pre-guess what our next word might be.  It’s because phone technology got jealous of Google, which had an uncanny sense of what we wanted to search for, each day on the net. Suppose I wanted to look for new medical advances on the Common Cold bugging me for days. I would start typing “Co… and suddenly I would become the world expert on “Commonwealth Nations, and their impact on geopolitics and environmental issues” in the time it takes to sneeze.

So our phones too decided to smarten up, and guessed words and sentences for us, based on the first two letters typed. This can lead to alarming situations. I’ve heard of this message a guy got, from his girl: “I’m lesbian in 30 minutes.” It was a painful 25 seconds by the time the corrected message came: “Sorry! LEAVING I meant…”

Being a Short Message Service essentially, phone technology  tries to keep words shorter and sweeter to save time. Take this message received by a lady executive from a business associate: “I will meet you in the buff at 1pm at the Coffee Shop.”  Must have been a relief to see him fully clothed later at the buffet lunch, I’m sure.

Or when one elderly lady messaged another, after the passing away of their retirement home’s manager. “We feel his abs even today”. When she realised what  she had sent,  she retyped the sentence. Only it went out as: “We feel his asbestos even today”.

Still, the brilliance of these phones-that-think continues to astound us, even if one types several letters correctly. But I do know of a Yoga teacher whose ears are permanently red after she sent this out to a whole Whatsapp group: “Due to unfortunate circumcisions, there will be no Yoga class for 2 days”.

But what I am puzzled about is: these hi- technology phones should at least get technology words right, right?  Alas, no.

My cousin Raju nearly jumped off a bridge after realizing he’d sent this message to his boss: “No free wifey in this hotel. Got to pay every time. They are charging me a bomb for just one hour of use.”

indubee8@yahoo.co.in

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 3:30:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/indu-balachandran-bemoans-the-menace-that-is-auto-correct/article6471258.ece

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