by Sarah Gotschall
According to computer scientist Andrew Ng, speech is the natural way that people communicate and “humanity was never designed to communicate by using our fingers to poke at little keyboards…” After years of user torment by Siri and the like, voice recognition has finally hit prime time. According to Ng’s recent study, mobile phone voice recognition translation of text is three times faster than typing, and equally accurate. Computer keyboard typing can’t be far behind!
So why do we continue to sit at our desks all day at work and manually type stuff? Dictation is hardly a new concept to field, yet seems to be rarely embraced, if my law library friends and coworkers are any indication. Perhaps this is unsurprising in light of the early clunkiness of Siri and the like. Or maybe people were put off by earlier attempts to utilize computer voice to text feature?
After two prior attempts to incorporate dictation software into my work routine, which failed due to constant computer freeze-ups, I abandoned the effort and focused on my phone. Fed up with my continually aching wrists from poking and swiping on my phone all day, I clicked on the little microphone next to my mini keyboard and never looked back. Soon my passion for dictating text messages spread to my personal e-mail and Google Keep notes until finally one fine day I decided to unleash it at work to speed up (or at least add some variety to) my email composition, student feedback, blog post production, and more. After failed experimentation with the Windows Voice Recognition feature due to the limited selection of cheapo headsets available at work, I worked around it by just dictating my stuff into Google Keep on my phone and then laboriously cutting and pasting the text into a Word document on my work computer. (Geez, people will endure all sorts of crazy inconvenience and come up with the stupidest and most inefficient workarounds to avoid investing 10 minutes into actually solving a problem, amirite….)
Finally, inspiration hit when I decided to write a blog post about dictation, and I took the required 10 minutes to resolve the problem by ordering a new wireless headset. And now the Windows Voice Recognition feature works just fine!
As one might guess, many folks on the Internet espouse the productivity superiority of dictation over typing! To name a few…
Speed = Productivity?
Obviously, we can talk faster than we can type, and doing thinks more quickly is considered an improvement in productivity. Various estimates suggest that the average person speaks 150 words per minute yet types only 40. For those unused to dictation, surely many of the 150 words will be useless at first. We older folks became accustomed to thinking about what we were going to write before writing in longhand, and it took years to adjust to formulating sentences on the fly while typing on a computer. Thinking of what to write while dictating likely doesn’t come naturally for everyone, but will likely improve with practice.
One need not be an accomplished procrastinator to occasionally put off starting on a writing project. I imagine that even accomplished and prolific writers occasionally have no idea where to start. It is relatively easy, simple in fact, to open a Word document and start blathering some sentences and ideas.
Speaking of blathering, dictation is suited to brainstorming. A lifetime of chitchat with our fellow humans has trained us to quickly word vomit a mountain of thoughts and ideas with literally no effort. Due to the ease of rambling, we might even include ideas seemingly too useless to merit the exertion of writing them down, which may later be viewed as inspired. Free writing, the prewriting technique of continuously writing for a limited period of time without regard to organization, spelling, grammar, or quality of writing or idea, can be a useful way to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic. What is even easier than free writing? Free speaking!
Thinking on One’s Feet?
A brief perusal of the news daily confirms the human tendency to stick our feet in our mouths. It is a rare and mysterious person who appears to consistently think before speaking. At least one person on the Internet has theorized that dictation trains people to think on our feet and improve our ability to quickly organize and convey complex thoughts.
Sitting is the New Smoking!?
There’s a lot written about how sitting is the new smoking. Even that trendy savior, the standing desk, may prove inadequate to save us. Perhaps you can avoid the specter of early death by taking your dictation show on the road? With a wireless headset you can walk around your office (as I am doing now with my new wireless headset!) while dictating to your computer. Or, you can stroll around work with your phone dictating into Google Keep or the like, simultaneously prolonging life while enjoying the added benefit of annoying your coworkers. Even better, since nature has been getting some good press lately, with many claims about its positive impact on mental health, you can work on living forever and improving your mental health simultaneously by going outside to take a walk.
Microsoft Speech Recognition Feature
Microsoft has been congratulating itself in recent years on its speech recognition technology and Internet reviewers agree that the Microsoft Speech Recognition feature has gotten a lot better! With an adequate headset or microphone, it is very easy to install and use for dictation.
If using the Windows 10 operation system, click on the Start icon (Windows logo key), then Windows Ease of Access, and then Windows Speech Recognition. A dialog box appears with options to get started.
After setting up your microphone, you can view the tutorial and train your computer to understand you by reading text on the screen. Then, you are ready (hopefully) to open a Word document and start speaking! With some luck it will work perfectly at first and you will be wonderfully satisfied with the quality of the transcription without having to fiddle with the settings, try multiple headsets, and then give up on the whole endeavor pending ordering a new one.
In addition to dictating text, you can use your voice to edit the text with a list of commands available from the above pictured dialog box. For example, you can say “All caps XXXX” to capitalize XXXX or “Delete XXXX” to delete XXXX. I am not particularly proficient with these commands yet and have experienced some Siri-like frustration, but hopefully the commands and I will adjust to each other in the future.
If you haven’t tried dictation lately, maybe give it a try! Even if it doesn’t produce productivity gains, it can still be fun to try something new after years of approaching the usual tasks in the usual way. And it is another way to get out of your chair!