When I was a little kid, Star Trek was one of my favorite things in the world. I loved the idea of computers you could talk to. In one episode, they showed an apparently ordinary typewriter that took dictation. A character from the 20th century was very startled by it — “it’s typing everything I’m saying!” she said.
“Man,” I thought, “if I had that typewriter, I’d be able to get so much writing done.”
You see, the problem is, like many writers, I’m inherently lazy. (It’s true! We really are. Why do you think so many of us refuse to find proper work?) And there are some days when my mind is clear and the ideas are flowing, and I would love to get some writing done, but the idea of just sitting down and actually typing something seems like way too much work. Also, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I have a cat who loves to curl up in my lap, who makes it a little difficult for me to type. He’s doing it right now, in fact.
So I’ve been keeping an eye on speech recognition for a while. For a long, long time, the state-of-the-art was pretty primitive. There is a book about the subject that has a title I’ve always loved: “How To Wreck A Nice Beach.” (If you don’t get it, say it out loud, really fast.)
I tried buying some speech recognition software, oh, probably about a decade ago. It didn’t go very well. I had to spend a long time “training” the software to understand the peculiarities of my voice. And once I was done doing that, well, the results were not too good. Sentences would start well, but then trail off into random strings of deranged rambling. (Any smart remarks about how this is no different from my normal writing style will be summarily ignored.)
After that, I pretty much ignored any advances made in the field until recently, when I noticed that the speech recognition of my Android phone’s search feature was actually pretty damn good. Huh, I thought, I wonder if the desktop software equivalent has gotten any better?
I started seeing reviews from other writers talking about the very same software that I had abandoned years before — Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The reviews ranged from “hey, this is not bad,” to, “this has changed my life.”
I was more than willing to give it another try, even though I was slightly annoyed to realize that I couldn’t just buy it online with a credit card and download the damn thing. I had to actually buy a CD of it and have it shipped to me in a box. But, when Black Friday came along, I decided to see if Amazon had it on sale. Turns out they did. I got it for less than 40 bucks.
As the more clever among you may have guessed, this very post you’re reading was created using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (If you didn’t guess that, jeez, try to keep up.) I have a really decent USB microphone, the same one I bought back when I thought I was going to start podcasting, and I’m sure that helps the accuracy here. But the software itself has definitely gotten a lot better too.
All in all, this post probably took me a little longer to compose using this software than it would’ve if I had just typed it. And, yeah, I did have to go back over it all by hand and correct some of mistakes that I made. (Especially in that last sentence, ironically enough.) But once I get used to it, I can see this actually being easier than typing.
Will this actually make you more productive? Hard to say. But it does remove one more barrier of laziness, and quite frankly, I need all the help in that respect I can get.previous post: In Defense of Klout | next post: Setting Your Writing Goals for 2012