The New York Times Magazine's Year in Ideas issue described a plug-in that checks email to auto-correct for harsh tones and inflammatory words. It’s described as an “emotional spell check” to help people soften the tone when they unintentionally shoot off a nasty-gram. Perhaps this could help reduce Virtual Distance, particularly communication distance.
This technology raises some interesting questions. It’s intriguing to me that there is actually a market for this. I’m even more curious about the potential long term effects. It seems as if more people struggle with spelling on their own today than years ago because they have become dependent on auto spell checkers. What if people become accustomed to using technology like this one to assist in managing the tone of their written emotions when interacting with others through email. Is it possible that in the future we’ll become so used to having technology assist in tempering our tone and constructing polite written sentences that we’ll lose our edge in using these skills in oral conversation as well? Is this the best way to develop these skills for on-line and off-line relationship building?
Thanks very much for this post. I also find it interesting, and at the same time unnerving, that some algorithm or set of fuzzy logic may take the place of thinking clearly about the words we chose and the tone we set. I agree that perhaps this will trickle down to face-to-face social interactions. I already see it with my masters students at the university. For example, I just finished reviewing a paper where the intent was to say, "therefore" and instead the person wrote, "there for". This is just one small example of how spell check combined with less emphasis on good writing skills has given way to sloppy grammar. This also translates into a less than stellar appearance of intelligence even though the person who wrote this seems to carry himself well in person-person conversation.
Another virtual distance issue this raises is Affinity Distance in the form of Cultural Distance. To reduce cultural distance, we want to ensure that values are aligned. If, in the future, some people are taught to speak and write well while others are not and rely instead on electronic hijinks, than it will become clear that values based on proper speaking tones and manners may not be aligned. A good rule of thumb is to err on the side of formality when writing via electronic means. I know this flies in the face of "text-chat speak" however, it's still a best practice in my opinion.
If we come to rely upon magical and invisible filters to revise and edit our writing to appeal to someone's version of a comfortable emotional context, than I believe that from a societal point of view, we will have much bigger problems to deal with.
I look forward to others' thoughts on the matter and Pam, thanks again for this interesting post!
I see a number of issues with the concept of emotional spell-check.
While I do appreciate the use of spellcheck, the failing are on occasion frustrating. If I am using MS Word or sending e-mail, the application will check my spellling. However, this posting did not perform spellcheck. So, am I less or more intelligent if you read my e-mail or my posting? With my Dyslexia, I will often write teh and netwrok (intentional here).
With Emotional spell check, do I want to appear emotionless? I do feel strongly about some topics. Can I turn the spell check off when I e-mail friends? What happens when I meet in person individuals who have only read emotionless postings and in person I have no physical filter?
Just my $.02