I write. A lot. On my laptop, which I place on my lap, not on a desk at eye level. One of the things that has happened as a result is that, at an age when according to Men’s Health I should be in my physical prime, my body is essentially 90. I can’t turn my neck properly anymore; I wear a wrist brace when I type (which a friend helpfully pointed out is “exactly like the one my grandma has”) to help with the encroaching tendonitis and, on occasion, an eyepatch to combat the eyestrain. Not the pirate kind.
Last year, I invested in what I hoped would be the most body-saving tool yet: Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice Recognition Software. Version 11.0.
With Dragon, I would be able to dictate my writing, open computer applications, and send e-mails—completely hands free! My only prior knowledge of Dragon came from my adolescence, when my dad bought version 0.0005 or whatever to help him dictate medical stuff. I remember a lot of frustration. Tears. Bad words. What I don’t remember much of was success.
Surely the technology is better by now, I told myself, as I bought version 11.0 off the overstock shelf at Walmart for half price.
I took it home, opened it up, and prepared to enter the world of technologically enlightened.
The first thing I had to do to “train” Dragon was read a passage from Alice and Wonderland so that Dragon could document my little voice quirks. I was a bit disappointed about this, since if there’s one thing I do well, it’s enunciate, and I kind of liked the idea of feeling superior to all the people out there who might struggle to use Dragon because they were Mumblepantses. I try to take the small victories where I can get them.
But no, you read for four minutes so you can train your Dragon to recognize your unique voice and speech patterns and pronunciation.
You can also, if you’re someone who makes up words/names, train Dragon to recognize your creative additions to the English language. All you have to do is say “spell that,” spell the word, then say “train.” You record yourself saying the word, and Dragon will ostensibly recognize it in the future. This is more time-consuming and infuriating than it might sound. Especially since Dragon often doesn’t recognize words that are clearly words—like “asswipes” and “fuckwad.”
I don’t actually use Dragon much. Mostly because it fucks up. Constantly. Then I end up yelling at it, forgetting the microphone is still recording. I’ll look at my screen and see sentences that make no sense, followed by “fuck fuck you stupid piece of crap ass shit.” Often it devolves into a full on argument between Dragon and me.
Dragon has also made writing sex scenes incredibly awkward. For some reason—maybe it’s the lingering influence of my theater years—I can’t get it through my head that Dragon doesn’t care how I say things. Making my voice go up at the end does not mean Dragon will insert a question mark. I have to say “question mark”—which Dragon inevitably transcribes as “Russian mark.” Emphasizing certain words doesn't mean Dragon will use italics. Still, I insist on vocally acting out what I’m saying on the off chance this will help Dragon understand. It makes me feel like I’m in a porno. And the dog’s always listening, and it’s just…weird.
I’m probably better off just typing and taking a lot of painkillers. But recently my wrist has been acting up and I’ve been hitting the Dragon hard.
Here are some of this week’s Dragonisms. These are sentences as transcribed by Dragon. Followed by what I actually said into the microphone.
Dragon: “Him him that Playboy,” he said. "Why don't you all the him." I said to him she should, you cheap piece of shipped.
What I Really Said: “That’s him, that’s my boy,” he said. “My dog popped all the balloons.” I said popped all the balloons, you cheap piece of shit.
Dragon: Instead of the long white beer Santa usually weren’t pictures
WIRS: Instead of the long white beard Santa usually wore in pictures
Dragon: Siler stops the cross meets this.
WIRS: Siler’s cock spilled across Nate’s fist.
Dragon: What is so far about coffee and this?
WIRS: What is so hard about cock and fist?
Dragon: Did I stutter question.
WIRS: Did I stutter?
[J.A. enunciates “Cock. And. Fist.” Dragon promptly Copies and Pastes a passage from another document.]
Dragon: Maybe I should dedicate I linking like that do end the diving bell and the butterfly. Would you like that Western mark if I replaced you with some blinking soft were you discount candy ass been of my existence?
WIRS: Maybe I should dictate by blinking like that dude in The Diving Belle and the Butterfly. Would you like that? If I replaced you with some blinking software, you discount candy ass bane of my existence?
If this is the future, take me back to my childhood with that boxy computer with the black background and the green text and the floppy disks. At least the screen was at eye level.