Make Mistakes, Get Messy: How Autocorrect Might Ultimately Cause Our Downfall

June 23, 2018

 We live in a digital age. Word processing has provided people remarkable assistance in writing cleaner and more sophisticated paragraphs. Trubek eloquently summarizes research on whether student writing quality has declined. She specifically highlights the unvarying quantity of writing-related errors across generations, putting the particular disdain toward modern tweeting teenagers to rest. However, even though modern-day students do not appear particularly dumbed by social media in this regard, the study could have been improved.

 

While mistakes are, indeed, a fact of life, our technological prowess has increased our grammatical accuracy while limiting our understanding. Trubek mentions that spellcheck has significantly reduced spelling errors, though lending itself to a slew of new errors specific to this digital age. She writes, "The new number-one error in student writing is now 'wrong word'" (Trubek 1). Even though autocorrecting to the wrong form of a word is common, autocorrect, of itself, changes the accuracy of this study.

 

Students no longer have to remember how exactly to spell a word, but rather, how to approximate it before letting autocorrect finish the job. Auto-capitalization and grammar check indicate errors where the writer might not have thought to look for one in the first place. These aids provide a significant advantage to today's students, regardless of new, tech-specific slip ups. To more evenly compare the writing then to the writing now, the samples should comprise only written writing. In that way, the effect of autocorrect becomes more apparent. While students always have and do make mistakes, the total errors might increase over time if the autocorrect handicap were removed, it directly influencing students' capability to perfect their own writing. As in, the cumulative sum of would-be errors that were autocorrected and the errors made in spite of autocorrect might turn out to be greater than those of 50 years ago.

 

While the lack of independent writing ability might not impact students in the long run, seeing as every industry is slowly transferring their information from paper to digital files (and most jobs will actually encourage use of autocorrecting programs), the understanding required to complete a piece of writing declines. While not necessarily terrible, it impacts students' comprehension and thus their ability to recognize their own mistakes. Writing without a computer necessitates a certain level of independence and problem-solving. Although students are not using "'text-speak' or emojis in their papers" (Trubek 1), they do harness the readily available and extraordinary power of the digital age to perfect their professional writing. The decreasing need to know English fluently to write it might have a detrimental impact on students' future communication skills and could lead to more embarrassing mistakes later on. However, more research is necessary to support this.

 

 

This article was written in response to Student Writing in the Digital Age by Anne Trubek

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