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My office is not a starship, or why voice recognition is not for me

Joe Kissell | Aug. 27, 2013
Speech recognition may be the technology of the future, but Joe Kissell finally realized it was not the technology for him.

But wait! What about Siri? It's fantastic on iOS devices, and vastly more powerful and flexible than Speakable Items. Wouldn't the whole solution be for Apple to add Siri to OS X?

Well, no. Don't get me wrong; Siri and I have some great times together, and Siri on OS X would certainly improve my productivity. But even a more-advanced Mac version of Siri would only be a shortcut for a few of the things I can already do with keyboard and mouse. Siri wouldn't help me outline a book, design spreadsheets, draw diagrams, edit audio tracks, or do any of a hundred other tasks I use my Mac for every day. It wouldn't change the fundamental nature of my Mac or eliminate the need for existing input devices, which I would continue to use for the bulk of my office activities.

Think before you speak (or type)
I accepted the fact that voice control was not going to be useful for me, but I still thought dictation ought to be a winner, given my occupation. Sure enough, the mechanics of it work pretty well. I can get my Mac to type what I say with astonishing accuracy, and Nuance's $160 Dragon Dictate even supports the ability to edit text by voice. Technologically, it's fine, and without a coworker in the same room, I can even dictate without disturbing anyone. It's just that, much to my surprise, I can't stand writing by dictation.

What I've discovered through trial and error is that, for me, putting words together for delivery by reading is a different process than putting words together for verbal delivery. When I'm preparing for a live presentation, I work through what I have to say by speaking out loud. (That's when the office door comes in really handy.) Somehow, writing or typing just doesn't give me the result I want.

On the other hand, when I'm writing a book or an article, composing by speaking rather than typing or writing drives me crazy. I rarely come up with fully formed sentences before I start writing, and I revise extensively as I type. So, dictation, for me, is deeply frustrating. Besides, I like typing. I can do it quickly, accurately, and quietly, and I can use a large array of keyboard shortcuts, macros, text-expansion snippets, and other such tools to make the process highly efficient. It's a better match for the way I think.

Listen to the voice of reason
Many people who use voice control or dictation do so out of necessity—for example, due to injuries that make typing painful or impossible. And I'm relieved to know that if I should ever fall into that category, technology would make it possible, if not pleasant, to get my work done. I also know people who regularly use dictation by choice because they genuinely enjoy and prefer it. More power to them!


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