Me and My iPhone. A Battle of Wits

by Emily Kemme

Although I’ve never considered myself to be a techno-geek, and prefer to leave the inward workings of my computer uncharted territory, I must admit that I am attached at the hip to my iPhone.  Please don’t take this statement literally; the phone is not in my pocket.  However, it hardly ever leaves my side, except in sleep.  Because of this, I’ve begun to feel that we’re developing a symbiotic relationship, that in fact, the cellphone is sharing my thoughts.

Creepy? Possibly.  But I have strong data to back up this statement.

I realize that the gadget and its ilk are billed as “smartphones.”  Quite a lot of the time, it likes to think it’s smarter than me, its human.  Given the leash that links us, that’s possible.  To give it credit, iPhone does work very hard to recognize words I use on a regular basis.  However, I do have an advanced degree, and at times even know how to use it.  So, why does my phone think it can correct my spelling? Even more irritating, why can it decide that it knows what I want to say more than I do?

To give a few examples:

φ I was sarcastically describing a tense meeting I’d attended as a “lovefest”, but my phone changed that to “lobsters.” After I’d caught that, and tried again, iPhone was certain I’d meant to say “liveliest”; although the meeting had been “lively”, in the sense that it raised everyone’s blood pressure, when I describe something as lively, I veer toward fun.  “Animated” or “vivacious” come to mind.  This meeting had been none of these.  The third time’s the charm, and I was finally allowed to get my message across.  The unpleasant meeting had been no “lovefest”, yet surely my friend would understand where I was headed.  And yet, iPhone made me think:  what better word could have depicted that meeting than the red hot anger of a lobster, holding its prey between ruthless pincers.

There are times when I’m certain iPhone is toying with me.  For example:

φ It turned “root” into “roto”, thereby digging deeper into my thoughts.

φ When I described my son as a “prodigious texter”, this was changed to “produce texture” on first attempt, and “profuse” on my next, adding layers of meaning and providing me with a walking thesaurus.  A nice feature, I have to admit, but I think that “prodigious”, the product of multi-digital activity, is more accurate.

My iPhone has acted as counselor and psychotherapist:  a friend was filling me in on the dirty details of a philandering boyfriend.  I responded that the guy was full of “sliminess.” The phone suggested “eliminate” instead.  I thought that was a great idea.

My iPhone has become a taskmaster, insisting that when I’m “puttering”, it’s sure that what I’m really doing is “littering.” Who knows?  It could be right that I was simply wasting time.

Quite truthfully, I don’t think iPhone has much of a sense of humor, changing “purty” to “pretty.” I think I ought to be able to colloquialize when and if I feel like it.

And, while I’m happy to report that iPhone is a Star Wars junkie like me (it knew just what I meant when I advised my son, “Have patience, young padowan,”) and it’s great that if for some reason my index finger happens to slip, landing me in the foreign language section, and I can miraculously type in French, all of this control over my mind does make me wonder, just what is my reliance on this little machine doing to my brain?

When you think about it, we are enslaved by our QWERTY keyboards, without any real justification for it.  This is no surprise. Studies have demonstrated for years how technology influences our brains.  London cabbies’ brains are different from the rest of ours; their posterior hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with navigation, is larger than the brains of we non-taxi drivers.  The longer a cabbie has been on the job, the more their brain cells have redistributed to memorize London’s roadways.  You thought those round-a-bouts were put there to annoy American tourists, right? The real reason is that they’re a neurological experiment surreptiously put in place by evil neuroscientists from Switzerland.

Supposedly, the QWERTY keyboard exists for a good reason, and that reason is to sell typewriters.  Evidently, the alignment of keys allowed salesmen to type out the words TYPE WRITER in rapid fire succession using only one row.  Sales of typewriters skyrocketed with this prestidigital feat.  This is one of those justifications for selling basically anything.  Razor blades come to mind.

But seriously, there are some great things about Christopher Sholes’ invention of QWERTY back in 1873 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  You may not realize this, but greater things have come out of Wisconsin than cheddar cheese and the Green Bay Packers.  QWERTY is cool.  It allows more English words, thousands in fact, to be spelled out with the left hand.  Which is a coup for we lefties, who’ve been called “sinister” by ancient Romans and in France we are “gauche”.   This in spite of the fact that Harry Truman, Pablo Picasso, Paul McCartney, Michelangelo, Robert DeNiro, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Charlie Chaplin, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Barack Obama and Marilyn Monroe were or are “gauche”, to name a few.  Lefties have been oppressed by the righties for eons, ever since the invention of scissors around 1500 B.C. in Egypt.  This gives a whole new meaning to running with scissors.  We lefties have always known that we’re smarter than you righties.  After all, we can run with our electronic keyboards.  Nothing sharp there.

It’s possible that our keyboards have become an extension of our minds, that all those hours spent in high school typing lab didn’t go to waste.  It’s also possible that my iPhone is a heck of a lot smarter than I am.  It speaks in several languages, after all.  I’m curious to know if smart phones are age specific.  Is one man’s gibberish teenspeak to a 16-year-old?  I don’t know for sure, but it could be that it’s all a bunch of Jabberwocky.

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1 comment

Cindy April 24, 2011 - 11:55 pm

Hey Emily!

Loved the psychotherapist part — couldn't we all use one in our hip pocket?!

– Cindy


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