The Dragon, the Mouse, and Interfacing with Life

A few weeks ago I read an article in Scientific American about how people tend to retain more information when they read a physical book or magazine than when they read on the screen. I felt justified in my appreciation for the book as a physical object and fascinated by the article’s suggestion that our brains read books similar to the way in which they read landscapes around us, by creating a map of the terrain (where text appears on the page, how many pages come before it, etc.). But the thing that initially caught my eye and has held my fascination about this article was the opening anecdote about a young child who thought she should read a magazine by poking and swiping it with her finger (see a video version of the anecdote here). In other words, having grown up around iPads and smart phones she assumed a paper magazine would work the same way.

This made me curious. How has technology changed the way we interface with the world around us? How have our expectations changed?

I’ve had a similar experience to that of the child. I sometimes find myself tapping the screen of my laptop with my finger and wondering why it isn’t working. When I realize that it’s not a touchscreen and never has been, I’m surprised by how easily I expect each technological device to interact the way I want it to. But I’ve also had this experience with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Not surprisingly, I often speak voice commands to my computer before I’ve turned Dragon on for the day. And I’ve also found myself using voice commands with the iPad. While the iPad has dictation options in every window, it does not respond to voice commands (unless you buy and download a particular Dragon app which I have not done). So when I’m finished dictating an email and then I say “click send” and nothing happens, I’m immediately disappointed and then called back to the reality that not every device is going to obey me.

A related phenomenon is the infiltration of formatting commands into my everyday speech. I recall one particularly embarrassing moment when teaching a class a year ago. In a moment of excitement about the material we were covering I ended my sentence by audibly saying “exclamation point.” I found myself inserting commas into sentences that I speak and using capitalization commands to indicate proper nouns or words at the beginning of sentences. Socially this creates moments of laughter with those around me, but it also reminds me that as we become increasingly surrounded by technology and as we interface with it in more and more convenient ways, our expectations about how we interact with the world around us change.

Question of the week: How has technology changed the way you interface with the world around you? What does it mean when technology shapes our expectations about how we interact with our environment?

The Dragon, the Mouse, and the iPad

I’m a bookworm. I don’t mean that I just like to read all the time. I like to hold the tangible book in my hands, turn each crisp white page as I read, and smell musty antique volumes or the newness of a book hot off the presses. I’m also relatively “old-fashioned” when it comes to how I live my daily life. I’ve stubbornly insisted only on purchasing basic phones that are capable merely of texting and calling. I don’t own an iPod, a Kindle, a Tablet. I journal in a notebook with pen or pencil. I still love receiving letters via snail mail.

(Disclaimer: I’m not living in the dinosaur ages. Of course I have a laptop. I experiment with new technologies in the classroom: in fact, one of my future blog entries is going to be about the possibilities of using dictation technology in the classroom. I find the Digital Humanities useful and intriguing. And I’m excited by the work my computer scientist fiancé does. I just want to keep my own life as simple and tactile as possible.)

I have to admit that I’ve recently come over to the other side, or rather I’ve stopped seeing sides. I still value the tangible book and hope that libraries are always fully stocked, but on my recent dissertation research trip to Oklahoma City I realized just how useful new technologies can be, especially for someone trying to do work hands-free.

Sometime last year, a good friend gifted an iPad Mini to me. books and iPad 2Grateful for such an extravagant present but convinced it was entirely superfluous to my life, I used it only to surf the web and take photographs. That is, I thought it was superfluous until I realized I could download a Dragon Dictation app. And then I found out that the iPad makes it possible to dictate into any open window. Now I don’t want to go anywhere without it.

I know I run the risk of sounding absurd to the rest of my generation (I insist that I’m just old enough to miss being a millennial) when I marvel over an easy-to-carry device that can take high quality photographs, make voice recordings, and offer speech-to-text in every application. But if you’re not one of my fellow dictation-dependent writers, imagine what a revelation it would be if you realized that you could conduct archival research, record interviews, and take notes all with the same device and almost entirely without using your hands. My handy (pun intended) little iPad is changing how I do research in unexpectedly welcome ways and making my job healthier for my hands.

I still think we’ve become too dependent on technology. And I still feel concerned each time another friend says, “I’d rather read a book on my phone than sign one out of the library.” But I’m not seeing such a clear line anymore between the old way and the new way of engaging with texts and words.

Question of the week:  What new technology has aided you the most at work? And for those of you “old-fashioned” individuals out there – in what ways have you found yourself being won over by new technologies?