Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Writing technologies: Circumventing the keyboard

Yesterday I came across these two examples of writers working around half of the ubiquitous computer interface: the keyboard.

First, Martin A. Rice, Jr., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, likes to compose his emails on a typewriter:

Mr. Rice will often write a letter on his typewriter, scan it into his computer, and then send the image as an e-mail “Some people are tickled by it,” he “Some people are absolutely annoyed.”

Apparently, Rice prefers the tactile feedback of typewriter keys to the “mushy” response of a computer keyboard.

Second, novelist Richard Powers, who won the National Book Award for The Echo Maker, also dislikes typing, and in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air explains why he likes to compose his novels using speech-recognition software instead.

The Powers interview was particularly interesting to me because I spent a summer working as an intern at Speech Technology magazine in the summer of 2000. At that time, I think it would have been extremely cumbersome to dictate a long text using speech-recognition, given the limitations of the technology back then—it demanded a lot of computing power, required users to speak using unnatural cadences so the software could distinguish between words, and users had to spend a lot of time training the software to recognize their accents and speech patterns before it was very accurate. Apparently the technology has improved quite a bit, or, at least, Powers has found a way around its limitations.

One question I had about Powers’s process that wasn’t answered in the interview was: how does he revise? Does he use the software, or does he revert to a keyboard for this part of the writing process?

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