The Power of the Keyboard

JULIA SERRA | OPINION COLUMNIST

Since the invention of the typewriter, typing has come to be the reigning mode of communication. Handwriting is all but dead; the keyboard has earned some sort of triumph over the pen. I might journal on occasion, scrawl two word reminders on a post-it note or write a letter for nostalgia’s sake (but only if I’m feeling like the past deserves an homage). But, for the most part, when we need to engage the people around us with our ideas, we tap a text message or pound out an email. Our keyboards make our writing more accessible; text is almost always legible and is easily shared from person to person. But are there not sacrifices for such convenience?

With the pen, there is a sense of liberty. One has unadulterated ability to write any symbol, letter or punctuation mark he or she pleases. Regardless of “correctness” the pen allows the opportunity for the individual to either reflect upon the outdated styles of contemporaries or dabble in linguistic revolution. There is virtually no limit to what can appear on paper. While social restrictions will still play a role in the author’s perspective, the nature of the pen plays no part in that sort of entrapment. The keyboard, on the other hand, limits the writer to a small selection of “frequently used” characters. The written word is a representation of the author as an individual. If the keyboard is affecting the way things are written, it must also affect the way people represent themselves.

With the advent of the smart-phone, the keyboard has gained even more pen-trumping skills: auto-correct and predictive text. The intentions of these features are to maintain the clarity and correctness of my writing while still providing the convenience that American culture values. But at what point does the auto-correction and acceptance of suggestions in my writing start to affect me as an individual? Do I ever “auto-correct” myself, or define myself within the limits of “suggested terms”? When you type “I’m so…” into your iMessage text box, three suggestions come up: “happy,” “excited,” and “tired.” Auto correct introduces ideas of which emotions are rational, leaving all but three in obscurity. To feel “happy,” “excited” or “tired” is normal; it fits within emotional box that our cell phones define for us.

But what if I’m “angry” or “disappointed”? I’m not prevented from typing these words, but they are ominously undefined by the keyboard that, for the sake of convenience, I’ve become relatively dependent on. At what point does this habit start affecting me in situations that lack the “QuickType” feature? Is there an extent to which I define myself by the emotions predictive texts gives me permission to use? Convenience is beginning to define the average American, and the technological advances of the keyboards we depend on have the potential to alter the way we define ourselves.

I can’t prove that the intention was present in creating such a system, but the effects definitely are. In fact, it’s a little ironic. I haven’t handwritten a single word in this article. I’ve dutifully typed out my anti-keyboard angst, void of all dashes, in-between Google Docs’ glitches and faulty auto-corrections. Perhaps I’m unaware that the QuickType feature on my iPhone has indirectly influenced certain words in this article. I understand that this is a stretch; it’s highly unlikely that our keyboards will ever control us entirely. We aren’t going to forget about feelings that aren’t happy, excited or tired. It is, however, possible that keyboards are beginning to define us in more subtle ways, and even the most subtle fault in the way individuals define themselves and their emotions can have a big impact on the circulation of ideas.

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