2008-11-27

Typewriting as a new evolutionary step

(Before the beginning: I was surprised when I realized a couple of minutes ago that there is no article about typewriting on Wikipedia in English. It is a redirect to typewriter. Maybe I am missing something because English is not my native language.)

NetworkWorld brings IBM's five predictions for the next five years. By accident, these weeks I am preparing a text about just one big improvement which we will get in the next five years and which will change our lives a lot. Some of IBM's predictions are very close to mine. And, indeed, it is not about prophecy, it is about rationally analyzing current trends.

However, I think that one part of their predictions is a field for not so brilliant speculations, which proves this Slashdot article.

As someone educated in linguistics, claims that listening the Web will substitute reading it or that written communication (especially chats) will be substituted with communication by voice -- seems to me at least as not well informed speculation. Keyboard will become past at the moment when computers would be able to have read-write access to our brain. Not earlier, but maybe much later.

Did you ever try to talk (by voice) separately with more persons at once (like talking with someone in person and with other by phone)? What are your impressions? With how many persons you are able to talk at once and to be able to have more sensible conversation than just arguing? For me, separate spoken conversations with even two persons is stressful enough. (I want just to mention here that even speech recognition is an issue which is far from being solved.)

And now, repeat previous questions for communication via instant messaging. While number of separate conversation via IM has limits, having two separate conversations is not so hard. If you are just talking, you would be able to handle maybe up to five separate conversations, but I am sure that young persons are able to have even more of them.

We are not thinking a lot about our everyday tasks, situations, technologies. If we are able to use Internet, we are not asking ourselves often what our parents did without Internet and what Internet changed in our lives. We are not asking ourselves even what our grandparents and grand-grandparents were doing without electricity. We are not asking ourselves often how many days one ordinary person had to spend to travel 300km and back without cars and highways.

We are not asking ourselves about consequences of typewriting, too.

Ten years ago, when I wanted to teach someone to work with computers, I had to spend significant amount of time to explain them that they have to learn typewriting. It is better to use some standard ways, like professional typewritists, but the most important is to know to do that blindly. Simply, I can't teach someone Unix if they need to spend extra efforts to type 'ls'.

Today, the situation is different. People around me know to type; not so fast, a lot of them just with looking into keyboard, but at average level it is much better than it was ten years ago.

But, I don't want to write here about running Unix commands or typing an essay as an evolutionary step. This is a kind of technological advance, but it is not an evolutionary step.

A real evolutionary step is when you are communicating with three persons at once via your Gmail account. For the first time in history one person is able to talk easily with two or more persons. Before instant messaging systems (back to BBS chats and early IRC), humans were not able to do that.

Like printing press was not so big social advance (while it is, of course, much bigger technological advance) in comparison to daily newspapers, typewriting on typewriter or even in text processing programs was not so big social advance, like typing instant messages is.

Simply, other brain functions are in use when you are typing your essay and when you are chatting with different persons. Typing an essay is just a faster way to write it by using different methods than handwriting. Chatting with more persons is improving your communications skills in a different way than any other kind of communication is doing. And, probably, it is not just about communication skills.

It is very hard to talk about consequences because this is the time when children are starting to use IMs at the wider scale. Probably, their social skills will be much better than our are. Probably, interaction between them will be more intensive. They will be able to think much faster. Working on complex tasks will be much easier to them.

And this is not a type of change which had been happened between us and our parents. We are better informed. Because of that, on average, our skills are better maybe 10% than skills of our parents. This is it. Changes between us and our children will be much bigger. (Of course, it may be different if we find some way how to improve our skills by improving our brains axon by axon, dendrite by dendrite.)

Such skills may make completely different society. Bad scenario is an extra-anxious society. Good scenario is a society with much more free and content persons.