Here There Be Dragons

31 Jan

Shiny New Toy?

For my 30th birthday, I received a new piece of technology as a gift from my mother. It’s a piece of software called Dragon Dictate. You may have heard about it on TV or come across it on a web ad. What happens when we get a new piece of technology? Sometimes I think we’ll find that it can seamlessly integrate itself into our daily routine. When I got a new phone, for instance, I found it did all the things that my old phone used to do. Since it was a smart phone, however, it also did a new range of things that my old phone couldn’t do. All of a sudden I could surf the web, and check my e-mail, and integrate the address books on my computer and telephone.

News Paper Origami Dragon Monster

Image by via Flickr

Fear the Dragon!

I’m hoping that Dragon Dictate is a piece of software that can bridge the gap between what I say and what I type or write. More than one of my instructors when I was an undergraduate commented that that I was more eloquent aloud in class then I was on paper even given time at home to compose my thoughts. I’ve always had a bit of the gift of gab–even though I do hope to kiss the Blarney Stone when I’m in Ireland later this year–but it is particularly evident if you were to meet me in person and then compare it with my writing. I don’t mean to say that my writing is poor, and it’s obviously a skill that I hope to continue to improve by writing on this blog. Yet I think that however improved my writing could be from constant exercise, it will still be less than what I can say extemporaneously. I hope that doesn’t break some terrible unwritten rule about working in the academy. I know we’re all supposed to be gifted writers and speakers, but is it an egregious lack of tact to claim that I’m better at one than the other and use the weaker medium to share that claim with everyone? I bet that sounded much better aloud.

Chink in the Armor?

The reason I decided I wanted Dragon Dictate is that I’m preparing a series of lectures that I will give as part of a course I’m teaching this summer. I’m also dealing with a variety of materials in my dissertation research such as letters and testimonials that are nowhere else transcribed. It’s likely that I will photograph these materials, which are not digitally available, and it may be that the easiest way to transcribe large chunks of these texts will be to read them aloud into this program.  The lectures and transcription share the common need for a way to capture what I say aloud quickly and accurately. The lectures will be written using my notes, which I will prepare ahead of time and have in front of me when I speak to the computer program. That’s the plan at least. I’m hoping that it will work better than any kind of workflow where I would sit and type up what I think I would like to say and then practice saying it, making changes as I go along. That seems to me backwards not only in intent but also in practice, so perhaps saying it aloud first and revisiting the transcription will allow me a new kind of clarity on what it is I say and how it is that I’m saying it.

As I experimented more with the program I found, however, that it was much easier to speak naturally without inserting any of the punctuation that the software would like you to include (say aloud “comma”), and that it was easy to add them later on in the editing process. This may mean perhaps a second or even a third or fourth run through of the material–something I normally do for all my blogs, even though this often fails to catch all the mistakes that I make. It may add to the labor of the process in ways I haven’t fully quantified yet, and I can bet that it will change, in subtle ways, the way I say things. I wonder if I’ll be able to identify the changes? Will I pause in different places or speak at a different pace? Who knows? This particular piece of technology will influence my work will and I’ll try to note as we go along which of my blog posts have been composed with Dragon Dictate and which ones were entirely composed without the speech software. Into the great technological yonder, right?


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