Say What?

The first time I tried a voice-activated program to write (dictating instead of typing) was years ago, when Ken - who consistently manages to solve my technological problems before I quite know I have them - gave me a program called VoiceXpress. Learning to use it was a bit of an uphill battle. At the end of one particularly intense training session, I went into my e-mail program to send Ken a message about my progress (naturally by dictating it). As I was a tad frustrated, when it came to the subject line I dictated 'damn'. The first indication that the training session had been less than successful was when the word 'Beirut' appeared in the subject line…

Whether the program itself wasn't very good - this was in the early days of voice activated doodads - or my computer wasn’t good enough or whether the issue was that, as far as I could figure out, the training required typing when correcting, which seems to indicate that it was geared towards people without disabilities (and killed my shoulders)... Long story short, VoiceXpress and I never quite gelled.

Some years later, when my shoulders told me that I really ought to find a Plan B when it came to writing, I looked up Dragon NaturallySpeaking. After trying a friend's copy, I bought my own (version 7). Although better than VoiceXpress, I never quite found a way of using it reliably, I think partly because of the program itself (which had, as far as I remember, an accuracy rate of 75-80%) and partly because my computer just wasn't as fast as was ideal. I eventually got a new, faster computer and earlier this year, I upgraded to Dragon 8. And let me tell you… It zooms. They claim an accuracy rate of almost 100% and the combination of that and a computer with enough RAM and speed to support it? Wheeee! I was dictating fairly accurately within the five minutes of set up. Brilliant!

I'm having some trouble letting go of typing, though. When I first got a computer, way back in 1989, I couldn't compose on it. The first time I attempted to write an essay on it, I ended up having to write it longhand, using the computer as a glorified typewriter. I quickly learned to think while typing, though - so much so that now I can't let go. There is a zone I get into - I place my hands on the keyboard and somehow a connection is established between my hands and the writing centre of my brain that requires very little of conscious participation on my end and what comes up on the page has a rhythm and truth that often surprises me. It is almost like automatic writing. I haven't yet figured out how to do that while talking, although I am starting to get a sense of a way that might work. I just need use the program every day, every time I write, which I’m not very good at - I love the physical aspect of writing, it makes the process a whole-body experience. I miss my ability to type and my ability to type for hours - I used to write a 10-15 page essay in one full, orgy-like, overnight (naturally the night before it was due) session. Now, I have to plan and ration. There is something about sitting still in front of my computer while dictating that hurts after 30 minutes or so. But it's more than I used to be able to do, so maybe it's just about practice. One must adapt, right?

One funny thing about using Dragon is that when I use it consistently, it creeps into regular conversation. For instance, if someone asks me to repeat something, I often find myself dictating, rather than repeating. As is, 'can you pass the salt comma please questionmark'. It makes for interesting looks…