Smart phones, dumb fingers and nimble minds

I recently read this email from a colleague:


Here is a absurd devoted to PLCs.  For those of of yo engaged in PLC work you might find some good ideas or resources.  Supplement to all things PLC site.

An apology email followed in short order, unable to explain how his intended message (Here is a website devoted to PLCs. For those of you engaged in PLC work you might find…..) could have gotten so mangled.

It turns out this colleague just got his hands on an iPad and was having some issues with on-screen typing (don’t we all?).  Rather than an apology, I’d like to give my colleague a virtual high-5 for illustrating an incredible by-product of digital communication.


Since computing is the process of translating code into meaningful language (literary, mathematical, etc.), there exists a certainty that from time to time code will get entered incorrectly, resulting in a garbling of the intended message.  In the pre-digital era, this often occurred in case of misspeaking. Whether speaking in one’s native tongue or in a second language, the errors are usually forgiveable or contextually identifiable.

She left her house at home (instead of “purse at home”)

When the error results in a humorous confusion or suggestive entendre, we call that a malapropism (for famed Ms. Malaprop).

The widow was prostate with grief.

Since the syntax of digital code has nothing to do with the syntax or etymology of language, errors often seem random, undecipherable, even grotesque.  Which is why I choose to refer to my colleague’s error as digital transmogrification.  Can you figure out how website somehow turned into absurd?


Look at the keystrokes involved in the typing of the word website.  The a is precariously close to the w and not that much farther from the e.  The i is practically spooning with the u.  Same for the t and the r as well as the e and the d.

I decoded his intended message within seconds, yet absurd and website share little resemblance phonetically and are perfect strangers in morphology and etymology.  Yet I bridged that gap with little effort.

In the previous (linguistically based) errors, the connections are evident.  House and home are linked contextually and prostrate and prostate phonetically.  But absurd and website don’t share that cozy connection.

Fortunately for us, programmers re-route us from the REALLY ugly results from bad code translation–more often than not we just get

Code 404: Page not found.

The often disjointed and incomprehensible errors that result from code translation is obviously one reason that my decodifying chops are so tuned.  Predictive texting, which became available on smartphones and dumbphones a few years ago, brought the likelihood for miscues into daily, almost constant occurrence.  So, should we curse our keyboards and keypads and glass screens and poor cut n’ paste abilities for filling our lives with a steady stream of confusing messages?

Quite the opposite.  We should thank them.  They are the Jack LaLanne (or do you prefer Gilad?) for our sleepy, auto-pilot, pattern-predicting, logic-addicted brains.

I believe that the constant decoding that I do as a digital navigator has equipped my mind with a degree of versatility that previous generations may not have enjoyed. I have no other proof of this.  In fact, this is a really reckless statement, given the absence of research.  But this is the internet.  Just by writing it most people will consider it true!  Besides, I coined the term digital transmogrification!  That’s gotta be worth something!

2 thoughts on “Smart phones, dumb fingers and nimble minds

  1. You have done research. A career of observing, hypothesizing, and experimenting in the classroom. That is research. Great research. Action research. When we educators own that, the possibilities are endless!

    I did not know what BR had meant until this post…so thank you, too!

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