The In Off Is On

Now that I’ve got the hang of it a bit, I love my new computer. I always loved the colour but now I realise how delightful, and easy to use, the keyboard is. No more fighting to make the ‘e’ button work, or ending up with a sore wrist the next day.

I love the things that it allows me to do without a fifteen-minute wait – like getting on-line. (Slight exaggeration, but of course, I’m permitted to make liberal use of poetic licence these days!) And I love the opening pictures of magical wildlife and stunning scenery which it greets me with when I switch on.

I do not, however, see eye-to-eye with the little darling when I’m writing in creative mode. This new computer has a particularly annoying function that seems to think it can write better than I can! Not what any author wants to hear. It is constantly throwing up brown lines under my phrasing which a right-click of my mouse reveals as ‘better suggestions’.

Have you considered more concise language?’ it will ask, listing some ‘suitable options’. ‘Or using a more descriptive term?’ again, accompanying this with ‘appropriate ideas’.

I’m sure that somewhere in the development of this more up-to-date version of Word, someone thought they would be doing us all a favour by being so helpful, particularly for people who struggle to express themselves in written form; but I’m equally sure that the potential for sinister intent is lurking in the background.

‘What price, creativity?’ I want to shout at the screen when it suggests that my heroine (new novel – a romance), having fallen asleep in a chair with exhaustion and being woken by a stranger at the door, ‘made an effort to communicate‘ would be better expressed as ‘tried to communicate‘ (more concise) but when I have her responding to the stranger’s ideas with ‘‘That’s all … a big help’ she finished rather lamely’, the computer now wants me to replace Lily’s sad phrase with ‘an immense help‘, ‘a tremendous help‘ or ‘a powerful help‘, all of which would be a complete misrepresentation of the story at that point.

I am reminded, perhaps over-dramatically, of the Thought Police in Nineteen Eighty Four. Perhaps this novel has a different impact today, with its title appearing to be such a long time in the past, but when I was a teenager, the date was far enough in the future to be a blip on the horizon and the book became something of an icon for many of us growing up, determined to preserve freedom at all levels and to make people aware of the dangers of not caring about others on this planet.

The idea that the machines described in the book might actually become reality seemed ridiculous to many of us but the sentiment that some humans would use any kind of technology available to subdue those who did not agree with them, or who looked different, or who displayed the capacity for creative thought, was very real.

The scenario I meet daily on my computer appears innocuous at first glance, but so does any form of repetitive programming. How long before the newly-formed channels of the brain, which I believe can continue to be made as long as someone is alive and willing, are predetermined by the texts to which they are exposed, and those texts are controlled by people with very specific agendas?

At the very least, if our machines are constantly supplying answers for us whenever we request them – and even if we don’t – our thinking processes become less creative, automatically. There will appear to be less need to explore more unusual solutions and to stretch our minds for innovative ideas. And that, for me, takes the point out of being alive.

Anyone who watched any part of the World Snooker Championship over the last fortnight or so, will know that what gave us the greatest delight as spectators were the incredible shots that ‘came out of nowhere’ – the ones that required not just the skill to execute accurately but which could barely be conceived by those of us watching.

No surprise then that Shot Of The Tournament was awarded to Shaun Murphy’s unbelievable potting of the red into the middle pocket, in his match with Ronnie O’Sullivan, when it was absolutely impossible for him to hit it. What a stunningly creative solution!

I’m delighted to say that my computer was completely floored when I tried out John Virgo’s intriguing phrase, ‘the in off is on‘ on its brown line selections this morning, and was unable to offer any alternatives. Just for snooker aficionados: I shall treasure that alongside another favourite of his – ‘Where’s the cue ball going?’ There must be a T-shirt …


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