Typing or dictating?

34 years ago, I had to learn to touch-type as part of a CETA program. FWIW, I hated the idea of having to learn this, but they said, no, you’ve gotta learn to do it. (grump grump grouse pout stomp stomp!)

Okay, I enrolled in the typing class. And I went from 0 to 48wpm in about 2 months (40 was all they required of you to graduate from that class.) Within a couple years, I’d gotten to 75wpm and 30-some years later after all these books and manuals, it’s now 130wpm when I’m really cruising. Mind you, to do that, I need an Avant Stellar keyboard, which has hard plastic keys with a wide channel, a deep stroke, and a click at the bottom of the keyboard (just like the old IBM AT keyboards). They’ve also got the function keys on the left, just like God intended, and you can reprogram the keyboard to do anything. They automatically include keycaps to put the Ctrl key, the Alt key, and the Caps Lock back where they’re supposed to go, so all those Ctrl + F-key combos are something you can do with one hand without looking. But don’t take my word for it; go look at them here. They’re expensive but they’re totally worth it to me. And they last.

I discovered on my very first book that once I’d sunk into that creative reverie that makes writing so much fun, I was thinking ahead of what I was actually typing by a couple of paragraphs. It was a magical experience for me: I was sitting there watching the screen and the fingers were blazing away and I was thinking of how this was all going to unfold. My hands were feeling like spooled devices, like printers: I’d have a paragraph or so in the mental buffer waiting to get out and the hands would work independently to catch up with things as fast as they could. It was biggedly cool. I enjoyed it enormously then and whenever it’s happened since.

This thinking ahead and letting the hands run on automatic is why I strongly prefer using keyboard commands to mouse commands when I’m working. Keyboard commands can be injected into the stream of things the hands are doing. Doing commands to make a correction or what not is probably a real-time operation as opposed to something spooled, but even so, I don’t have to move the hands from the keyboard, I don’t really have to watch the screen too much, and I don’t have to break my thinking. Picking up the mouse and manipulating the cursor is very much a real-time operation that uses a whole different set of reflexes and is, frankly, just a little distracting.

This “spooled vs. real-time” distinction is a lot of why I don’t dictate my books. I know a lot of people who use Dragon NaturallySpeaking software to dictate to their computers. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is really good software in many ways and everything I’ve heard about it suggests that it’s a product you really want to consider if you need to dictate. But it’s just not feeling like it’s something I’d want to use. Talking the book doesn’t feel right because it’s a real-time operation. I can’t really think ahead when I’m dictating. I also don’t know if I can talk for 6, 8, 10 hours a day. Shoot, talking on the phone for a couple hours a day is difficult enough at times. And there’s also the problem of not wanting to talk early in the morning. It takes more energy than fluttering my fingers. And on top of all of that, I like to have background noise like music or the idiot box, which’d be a problem.

But today I heard about a great use for dictation that I’m going to have to try. Aila Accad, president of LifeQuest International, told me that she dictates into a digital recorder, which she then inputs to the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. The software inhales the digital information, turns it into text, and voila! I need to give this a shot, because when I’m on the road, I could in fact write notes, ideas, and other things. I could even practice some of my presentations and get transcriptions.

And who knows? I might get in the habit of dictating more and use it here when I’m home, too. But I’d have to turn the music down, so first things first.

One Response to “Typing or dictating?”

  1. Sharon Kay

    I’ve been using a Fingerworks TouchStream for years. The company went out of business years ago when the inventor/owner/CEO got snapped up by Apple. But — Happy News!!! — it looks like some timer pinged and Apple will be coming out with a similar device. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/25/apple_fingerworks_patent/(The Fingerworks site, which has been up but unchanged all these years, came down at about the same time.)

    With the TouchStream, the keyboard surface IS the mouse. Hit it with one finger, you’re pressing a key. Two or more is a “gesture.” E.g., pinch with the thumb & middle finger to cut, tap with the same fingers to copy. Paste is the reverse of the cut gesture. Drop 4 fingers on either home row to Shift (shift will continue until you lift all the fingers). Drop them on the row above for CTRL or on the row below for Alt. Slide 3 fingers up, down, or sideways to select text. Etc., etc.

    I love my TouchStream. I’ve been watching for Apple to make use of the patent.

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