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TSE  December 2004

TSE December 2004

Subject:

Re: (OT) Internet : an overkill ?

From:

George Carless <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 20 Dec 2004 16:56:42 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (61 lines)

On Mon, Dec 20, 2004 at 04:20:40PM -0500, Nancy Gish wrote:
> You have a serious point that the internet and email have made many
> things possible (I have no idea how anyone co-edited before it, for
> example), but Vishvesh has a serious point also, and it is nonsense to
> call it nonsense.  Surely you can improve on namecalling as a response.

I do apologize for any namecalling; however, I also stick by most of what I
said.  I tend to believe that those who depend upon grammar checking are
those for whom grammar is a problem to begin with, and I don't see any
evidence to suggest that, were an automatic grammar checker not available,
these people would spend the time to figure out how to write what they
intend to mean.  Grammar checkers have their problems, naturally--but it
might be argued that they can in some cases heighten awareness of some of
the writing deficiencies that grammar checkers *are* able to catch.  There
is of course the problem that people have a bizarre blind trust in
computers, and I've known people to say things like "well, Microsoft Word
said that so-and-so", when they really should know better.  But I tend to
feel that grammar is used well by those who appreciate it, who understand
its nuances, who realize that it is a matter not only of 'rules' but also of
style; and I think that people who can write well will write well, whereas
people who write poorly may at least be encouraged to write better in some
small way.

A spell checker will not know the correct spelling, in the examples that you
cite, until it can understand context (which is a difficult thing for a
computer to do, naturally, but which may nonetheless come to pass)-- but nor
either can the poor speller, and unless they reach for the dictionary--and
understand what they should be looking for--then they'll be no better off.
The computer can, again, perhaps lure someone into a sense of security: "the
computer hasn't flagged it as being 'wrong', so it must be right"--but this
is surely a known issue, and one that will be improved upon in future
iterations of software.  It is not an intrinsic failing of technology: this
may be understood, but it often doesn't stop people from railing against
technology per se rather than understanding the limitations of where we are
_now_ versus where we may be in future.

Grammar checkers, spell checkers, style checkers--these are not tools for
people like you, Nancy; they're for people who don't know any better.  Do
they encourage a certain laziness, a certain sloppiness?  Perhaps; but I
don't think it's possible to so readily dismiss them, to claim in a loud
voice that they are the downfall of civilization and that we are all
becoming stupider in the face of this evil technology.  Our society as a
whole is perhaps more convenient, and we demand greater convenience in most
of the things that we do--but that's a broader issue, and at any rate I
don't think that the correct approach is this new asceticism.  Maybe, just
maybe, these tools have their place: to catch mistakes where possible, and
to try to improve the level of writing of those who need them.
Increasingly, I think we will find that these tools will improve for those
who do need them-- and the rest of us will continue to simply: turn them
off.

This is all somewhat beside the point, though, because Vishvesh's comments
weren't so much on the deficiencies of word processors as on the problems of
the Internet, and specifically (I think) on the trade-off between the ease
of communication/publication and the quality of what is
communicated/published.  And here, again, I feel that the Internet--despite
all of the laziness and idiocy and flaming and hatred and whathaveyou that
is out there--is nonetheless an increasingly important, valuable thing whose
effect is not to our detriment, but is to our huge advantage.

--George

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