Your manners are under attack

How technology is complicating our social interactions

John Parsell
Aug 8, 2019 · 4 min read
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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Spelling is one of my stronger suits. I’ve always been “the guy” that people come to when they need to know how to spell a word. As a writer, I take pride in the fact that I am confident enough in my vocabulary to give advice to my colleagues. And I am happy to know that even if my PowerPoint presentations aren’t pretty — at least they are free of mistakes.

However, as a professional in the technology industry, it’s saddening to see what has happened to spelling over the years. It used to be the case that knowing how to spell was mandatory. I mean — how could you write a resume, complete an essay to a University, or send a letter to your grandparents if you didn’t know how to spell properly? Imagine what your poor grandmother would say if your heartfelt note to her was riddled with spelling errors.

And thus, spellcheck was born.

To be clear, I am not petitioning against spellcheck. In fact, I love spellcheck. It is my wingman. It is my second set of eyes; and puts me at ease when I need to send an email to someone who is really, really important. I use spellcheck every single day for its intended purpose — to double-check my work. But most people don’t use spellcheck like this. Instead, they rely on the software to do the hard work for them — a practice that has led to a huge population of incompetent spellers.

Just over a year ago, I watched Google CEO Sundar Pichai present the capabilities of the Google Assistant software at the Google I/O conference. If you haven’t seen it, you need to check it out, because it is amazing. Most of us have uttered the phrases, “Alexa” or “Hey Siri” more than once-or-twice in our lives. But, the Google Assistant software takes it a step further. No longer are we restricted to barking simple commands or questions to our personal assistants — only to receive an almost monotone response. In an amazing display of artificial intelligence, Google Assistant took a simple command, and transformed it into an intelligible phone conversation with a human being.

And the person on the other end was none-the-wiser.

To be clear (again), I am not petitioning against Google Assistant. I think it is fantastic. Immediately after watching the video, I couldn’t help but think of some of the possibilities it could offer, and how many people it could help. But, somewhere in-between the thought of using my assistant to change the world; and using it to order a pizza, a single word made it’s way into my brain.

Spellcheck.

When the spellcheck software was in its infancy, people did still know how to spell. As technology improved, spellcheck got better, and became more accurate. The software started checking grammar — letting you know when your sentence didn’t really make sense. Eventually, people stopped using spellcheck as a tool, and instead took it for granted.

I can’t help but feel that Google Assistant is headed down the same dark path. Sure, it’s cool to yell at your phone and have it make a pleasant phone call to the doctor’s office on your behalf. But eventually, software like Google Assistant will become an industry standard, and people will take it for granted. When that happens, we may witness the death of common courtesy.

I know that it’s a strange concept. It really is difficult to imagine a world in which the phrase “may I please have..” is replaced with a stern “give me”. However, is it really that unrealistic? I consider myself to be a very polite person — almost overly polite at times. That being said; I don’t say “please” to Alexa when I ask her how many tablespoons are in a cup, and I don’t say “thank you” when she happily replies.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not of the mindset that we need to exchange pleasantries with our electronic devices — that isn’t the point here. What I’m suggesting is that if we begin to rely on this technology too much, it may start to influence our idea of what is acceptable, and what is not. I’m all for the advancement of technology, but it’s up to us to know the difference between talking to the box in our pocket; and the waiter at a restaurant.

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