Friday, July 29, 2011

Enter the Dragon

Typewriter adler3Image via Wikipedia
Once upon a time, people took Typing Class in high school. Back then, typewriters came in two varieties, manual and electric. Manual typewriters depended on the force of the downward keystroke to produce an inked impression of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks on paper. Regular use of one of these would have been great finger- strength training for rock climbers. Electrics yielded similar results but with less force required resulting in less operator fatigue. They were also more expensive and, naturally, absolutely useless without a power source. Batteries were not included and it wouldn't have made any difference if they were, electrics didn't run on them.

Then came the word processor. Actually, first came the crossover, an electric that had a line or two of memory built-in and played catch-up with the writer. Then came the word processor, initially allowing one to compose and edit a paragraph before printing. As time went along, whole pages could be stored in memory. And finally, Steve Jobs got a better idea, though I'm sure there were others involved in turning out the personal computer, I just think of him because of the Mac.

So, that brings us to the present moment, when I sit in my late father's slightly askew office chair with a Dell Latitude laptop on my lap (where else?), the puppy in his crate destroying a plastic water bottle, and the big dog at my feet trying to do what I wish the puppy would, namely, sleep. Enter the Dragon and I don't mean Bruce Lee.

Dragon software is voice recognition. My first exposure to it was via an app for my iphone that allows me to speak the name of a drug or condition into a microphone and watch as it turns out a list of accessible current references. While I was doing my psychiatric rotation, I learned there was a version marketed for clinical documentation. The system isn't perfect -- right now, Dragon is slower than transcription services, but we're only in the first quarter. As soon as the software can keep up with rapid-fire dictation, reducing hospital operating costs will take precedence over paying transcriptionist salaries.

What triggered this post was a television commercial I saw this morning while the dogs were eating. Dragon software is available for personal computers at a hair under a hundred bucks, a hair under eighty if you call during the next sixty seconds -- operators are standing by. Sorry, they lost me before I got the number.

Anyway, one of the actors was a young woman who stated she didn't know how she ever blogged before getting Dragon. Now, she said, her blogs sound like conversation and she's oh, oh, oh so happy she feels like twirling around on her virtual mountaintop, singing, "The hills are alive, with the sound of music!" Well, maybe she wasn't quite that perky, but darned close. It must have been just then my finger found the channel button because I can't remember anything else. Aren't you glad?

Realizing this probably sounds as dated as the ratataptap of an old manual typewriter, I still like writing that involves the mind-body interface. I "hear" the words in my head and my fingers do the rest. And to tell the truth, I don't really express myself orally as lucidly as on paper. You might find that hard to believe, coming from a minister, but not all my fellows in seminary had silver tongues. Sure, there were a few, but prepared sermons are one thing, blabbing away on the fly is another. I need the delay between thinking and writing to keep my foot out of my mouth and even then, I'm not always successful. I'm sure Dragon has its place and the day may come when talking about a laptop with a keyboard will make my kids roll their eyes. As long as they read what I write, it's okay by me.

(Creative Commons image of an Adler typewriter keyboard via Wikipedia)

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