Is spell-checking making us lazy?

These days, I write for a living. Rather weird, considering I work in ‘marketing analytics’. But it’s true. “The word is mightier than the digits”. And in my trade, communicating what our customers want into clear and articulate documentation is part and parcel of what I do.

I also write for myself. Some time back, I was on holiday. Walked into a bookshop, down at Batemans Bay. A title caught my eye. “Creative Journal writing” its’ name. Stephanie Dowrie its’ author. I grabbed it. Flicked its pages. Looked at the table of contents. Read a few pages. I was hooked.

Since then, I have been writing my own journal for a while. I guess that is why I had not posted back again in this blog for a while. I still write my journal. Not every day; I did yesterday though. And today I decided it was time for writing more in my blog. Give back to my small but loyal readership. Get back into it.

As I was writing in my journal, Microsoft word corrected a number of spell-check errors as I typed. A very useful feature, but after a while, I realised one that comes at a price. I noticed some words I always mis-spell. Those pesky ones where a ‘double-m’ can and sometimes does show are the most prominent examples. And I almost always get it wrong. But MS Word does its efficient correction, and I am in the clear.

So why am I worried? I guess because my pen does not have auto-correct on it. Neither does facebook, the customer service website I used yesterday, or my mobile phone’s email client. And I am pretty sure that I make plenty of mistakes in those electronic and normal communications I do every day. MS Word has made me ‘spellcheck-lazy’. It’s not its’ fault. It’s not even mine. Call it a ‘secondary effect’ of using “productivity improvement” tools in our everyday life.

Then I started thinking. If that’s how it is affecting me, how is it affecting others? I have over 20 years of accumulated experience (‘duoble c’s are another tricky one for me) in writing without spell-check crutches. Others, like my children, have none of that. Will it make them not just spell-check lazy but spell-check illiterate? Who knows. Only time will tell.

This reflection reminded me of the endless arguments we had with our algebra (and later on calculus) teachers at high school. They argued we should not be allowed calculators in tests. We argued that the test was about our knowledge of the theorems and other mathematical knowledge, not a test of our ability to compute manually. But maybe they were right. Maybe they knew that maths literacy depends on some basics, and if you don’t know them well; don’t exercise them, you loose those abilities. You may be able to establish how to calculate the first derivative of a function, but your maths will still be awful if your ‘core maths’ skills always rely on crutches. Or at least that is the old argument.

Not sure who is right. I guess I will get a better idea as my children grow older. But based on the fact that young people around us are starting to use SMS-speak in their normal written life, we may have some strong evidence of the direction things are taking.


One response to “Is spell-checking making us lazy?

  1. I completely agree! I knew that spell-check had helped me out with some of those pesky words that I always debated the spelling of (usually double p’s or m’s) but teaching English has made me even more aware of how dependent I’ve become…there’s no spell-check on the whiteboard! It’s pretty embarrassing to have a student correct your spelling of a word that isn’t in their first language…

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