‘The perils of the auto-correct’ was my intended headline, but the all-knowing auto-correct took matters in hand. More of that soon. The smartphone is a godsend. We have become craven slaves to its bidding. You can send messages, emails, photographs, videos, order food (one day you’ll eat straight off the phone screen), book movie tickets and restaurant tables, video chat with your near and dear ones across oceans, binge-watch movies and stay up to speed with the latest news. All good. Or is it? I know many people moan about how the fabric of our society has been ruined, how we’ve become self-absorbed outcasts in civilized company, thanks to our smartphone addiction. All this has been analyzed to death by sociologists and other busybodies, like yours truly.
There is a funny side to this social malaise, namely, the auto-correct mechanism installed in all smartphones. Some think it’s a boon, others a bane. The idea of introducing this tool stems from pure altruism on the part of the smartphone brands. However, in my opinion and that of half the world, this keenness to spell check is totally misplaced. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. After all, whether it was the trusty Remington typewriter or our sturdy desktop, we are not badgered with three options for every single word we type, as is the case with smartphones. At least Microsoft Word discreetly underlines words or phrases in red, if they think we may be erring in spelling or using words they don’t recognize. It is entirely up to us to decide whether we take heed of their quiet alerts or not. But they do not, like our too-clever-by-half smartphones, catch us in an unguarded moment and slip in a ‘Henry’ instead of a ‘Hennur’, or a ‘Tooting’ instead of a ‘Thoothukudi’. It is only after you hastily depress the ‘send’ key that you discover the value of the adage ‘haste makes waste’. Or, as my smartphone might sadistically put it, ‘taste lakes Bates’. The receiver of the missive is doubtless wondering if this is some top secret coded message, and spends the rest of his day attempting to decipher it. Bates? Bates? Alan Bates? H.E.Bates? Jeremy Bates? Have a good day.
It then occurred to me that it might be fun to indulge in a spot of contemplation as to what the harvest might have been had some of the greatest passages in English Literature and Poetry fallen prey to the dreaded auto-correct. What if the likes of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, John Keats, T.S.Eliot and their ilk been unmindful of this pestilential technology, had it existed during their time, and the publishers / editors of their books ditto?
Let us, absolutely at random, take a well-known passage of Shakespeare’s from Julius Caesar. Mark Anthony’s memorable opening lines at Caesar’s funeral, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar.’ Among the Bard of Avon’s innumerable famous speeches this one by Mark Anthony will rub shoulders with the best of them. And yet, if William Shakespeare had keyed in those lines on his smartphone circa 1599, those seminal words may forever have been mauled beyond recognition, changing the course of history and literature. Imagine if you will, Shakespeare’s auto-corrected passage for posterity, ‘Glands, Rheumatism, concubines, lentil manure earplugs; I congratulate berry seizure, non-plussed hymn. The Evelyn that menopause delivers after thermostat. The gluten esophagus intricately withered boney; Salted bee will geyser’.’ Come to think of it, now that I read those auto-corrected lines, they have a certain strange, mesmeric ring to them. ‘I congratulate berry seizure’. Even Shakespeare would have struggled to top that. After all Caesar was known to suffer from epileptic seizures!
Then there’s the unforgettable opening lines of one of the great poems of modern times, T.S. Eliot’s immortal ‘TheLove Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ – ‘Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table’. And the haunting refrain, ‘In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo’. How would Eliot’s lines have fared under the tender ministrations of auto-correct? ‘Lettuce Gotham ennui / When the weening is spirited angst the eye / Lick of paint ethereally unstable.’ Followed by the reverberating punch line, ‘Infra broom the vermin commando / Tracking of myocardio’. Once again, the auto-correct produces its own whimsical cadence. A kind of nonsense verse or Poetry of the Absurd. Though Thomas Stearns Eliot could be turning fitfully in his grave.
Equally memorable are the first two lines of John Keats’ ‘Ode to a nightingale’, ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’. And like many of us, if Keats had been less than hawk-eyed while tapping in those lyrically lugubrious words, he might have ended up saying, ‘My part achtung a lousy bum pains / Licence through Hemmingway I shrunk’.
Finally the romantic works of Jane Austen. Her wonderful novel of manners, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ opens with these lines, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Would the estimable JaneAusten not have been horrified to read the final auto-corrected version? ‘Its tooth university accidents, that mingles a posse of good farting, must go get a life’.
The smartphone, along with the dreaded auto-correct, is here to stay. Let us learn to live with it, and understand its strange mental processes. That way lies more peace of mind and less tearing your hair out. Enough said, methinks. Or in the words of my trigger happy smartphone, ‘Enema strikes methane’.
(First appeared in the Deccan Chronicle, I greatly enjoyed writing this)