The Cost of Interruption

Most folks I know have complained about an autocorrect error at some point. There’s all kinds of potential for havoc when your smart phone transforms something you typed – perhaps with a minor typo – into something wildly different from what you meant. If you don’t catch the smart phone’s mistake before you hit send, maybe a friend is amused, or maybe someone you don’t know very well is confused or insulted.

At the same time, I don’t know many folks who turn autocorrect off. I’m sure there are some who haven’t thought to try. But I’ve turned it off, and just as quickly turned it back on again. It’s worth more trouble than it causes.

But it’s a form of input that requires attention, and interrupts your train of thought. Sure, you might make a mistake typing on a regular keyboard on your computer that doesn’t have AutoCorrect if you’re flying along, or not paying close attention. But if you slow down a bit, or make sure to look if you don’t touch type, you’re generally confident of what you’re typing.

And typos are easily fixed after-the-fact. Autocorrect errors are sometimes so far off from what you said that meaning is obliterated. So you may lose something if you’re not paying attention all the time.

So there are two troubles with autocorrect errors – you never know when one is going to hit, and it might be catastrophic. So to avoid these risks you always have to pay extra attention. This raises the anxiety level a bit and can get tiring.

Adding to that, when a mistake does happen, it interrupts your thought process as you notice it, switch your focus to correcting it, then get back to what you were doing. Imagine if you’re going for a bike ride, and at random times you have to get off your bike – just for a few seconds. It’s not as enjoyable an experience.

I know this feeling well. This is similar to speech input, which also requires extra attention to to make sure the computer doesn’t make odd wording errors on your behalf. I’ve been using speech input for a long time.  There are pluses and minuses, and I’ve been using it long enough that I can take good advantage of the pluses and mitigate the minuses. And recognition has gotten faster and more accurate over the years. But I still have to watch carefully to make sure that the machine doesn’t make a mistake. And that still takes brainpower.

I don’t have a particularly good conclusion. There’s a big cost to the interruption and attention leaks that smartphone typing and speech input bring about, and I’d like to be able to avoid them. Autocorrect and speech input will slowly get better, cutting down on the interruptions.

But I’d like to see better solutions faster.

It would help a bit to click on an autocorrect error and see the original. This would let you fly along and then proof later without the risk of losing information. The same goes for an easy way to hear your original input for speech. Technically speaking, you can do this with desktop speech, but it’s awkward enough that it’s not practical.

I think interruptions to the flow of our thoughts are on the rise in many quarters, including more pervasive advertising. It’d be nice to have practical ways to be able to fully focus on putting words into a computer without the computer itself interrupting.