Voice Recognition: Blogging With My Eyes Closed – And No Keyboard!

This blog entry is an experiment. I’m going to try speaking it instead of typing it, using Dragon Dictate voice recognition software for the Mac. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but if it gets even 95% of the way, then it will make writing very different.

I bought a copy of the voice recognition software only yesterday, so I’m still coming to terms with it. But it seems to have no trouble at all dealing with my Scottish accent, now I’ve gone through a couple of voice training exercises to teach it my pronunciation. You can also use this recognition software to execute commands, although I haven’t tried that yet.

My friend Peter May, who has been professional writer for many years, and was a colleague of mine on the Scotsman newspaper in Glasgow in the 1970s, says he had a very unsatisfying experience with the same software. However, I have to say that my own test has been pretty amazing. The process of writing has become much easier.

I began working with this voice recognition software using the Macintosh’s built-in internal microphone, which is not recommended, and I was really surprised how well it worked. Then, I remembered that I had a LG-30 Bluetooth headset which I bought for my mobile phone and no longer use. Again, this is not one of the recommended headsets for the software. But I thought I’d give it a try anyway.

You have to hand it to Apple. You really have to hand it to Apple. I switched on the headset, the Macintosh recognized it right away, and asked me if I would like to use it as the preferred audio device. As soon as I confirmed that I did, it began to work. Then I did a microphone test using the voice recognition software, and that worked, too. After that it was just a case of doing a couple of voice training exercises, and the accuracy began to get really amazing.

I’ve been a writer since I was about seven years old. But I’m a terrible typist. Anyone who’s ever seen me at work knows I use only two fingers, and hammer a keyboard into submission. I never learned touch typing. I’m also a terrible mis-typist. I always have to go back over what I wrote and correct it. The word-processor was an incredible improvement over the typewriter for me for its editing ability alone.

There’s something else about typing. Somehow, I can never write conversationally when I’m using a keyboard. The process gets in the way. So, even if what I speak isn’t transcribed with 100% accuracy, it still removes a layer between the thoughts and the words on the screen with which I’ve always struggled to some extent…

So I’ve been dictating this whole blog while laid on my back on a sofa, with my eyes closed. How cool is that?

One of the things I’ve always noticed about my writing is that it has a character completely different to my speech. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, to audiences as large as 25,000. I’ve managed to keep an audience of 3000 people in their seats for more than an hour while talking about typography, the future of reading, and some of the work I’ve been involved in over the years. I’m hoping that the ability to just speak will bring some of that dynamic to my writing.

The future of writing concerns me almost as much as the future of reading. The whole process of publishing has changed dramatically. Anyone can publish on the web. This is a good thing – very good – but it also means that the amount of noise has gone up incredibly. Finding the good from amongst the mediocre gets harder all the time.

When publishing meant printing, the would-be author had to fight his or her way through many layers and filters before the printing press began to roll. Perhaps that battle was too hard. But at least there was some kind of filtering system that more or less worked. If a story got to the front page of the newspaper, you could pretty much guarantee that it was important.

One of the disadvantages of this much more open publishing environment is that it’s becoming more and more difficult for someone to make a living as a full-time creative person. It’s not just that you have to claw your way to the top of a much bigger heap of material. The Internet has spawned a whole generation which believes all content is – or should be – free.

It’s great that amateur writers can now get published. But writing a book, for instance, is a commitment that might involve someone spending a year or more working full-time on it. People have been willing to make that kind of commitment in the past, because they view it as a long-term investment that will eventually pay off.

It’s the same with music. Yes, of course people do it out of love. But they do eventually need to be able to make a living from it.

Okay, that’s the blog post done. It did take a bit of editing, but no more than I would normally do anyway. I have to say I really like this process, and I’ll be using it again. I’m pretty sure that it can only get better the more I use it.

Unfortunately, there is no trial version of the software. So if you want to try it for yourself, you’ll have to pay the $180 for the online download version, or $199 with the boxed product, which includes a USB headset. Dragon Dictate for the Mac. http://www.macspeech.com. I can only say I’m very happy with my investment.

System Requirements: Intel-based Mac with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Internet connection required for product registration. Nuance-approved USB microphone for Mac (included with new boxed-product purchase).


4 thoughts on “Voice Recognition: Blogging With My Eyes Closed – And No Keyboard!

  1. H. Doug Matsuoka

    This is very interesting. I can't dictate because the result will be completely incoherent. If I want to be understood, I write with a keyboard. It's only the Delete-key along with the Cut, Copy, Insert, and Paste functions that allow me to be understood to myself and the rest of (English-reading) humanity. I have recently taken up writing with a pen, and it took me about a year to be able to hand write a letter coherent enough to be sent to someone. Even now, there is a considerable difference in style and content between my writings by hand and keyboard (just as your post describes the difference in your writing and talking). I think human verbal intelligence may operate very differently depending on how it gets to the page. I am practicing "thinking out loud" by recording my voice as I think through ideas. The results can sometimes be clear and surprising but are so different from my written ideas that it is sometimes a bit unsettling. Anyway, thanks again for an interesting post. Just for ref, here's a link to Daniel Chandler's "The Phenomenology of Writing by Hand," which compares the difference in people who write by pen vs the ones who write by keyboard.Best, Doug

  2. Anonymous

    I think many of us have different "voices". someones writing voice can be vastly different from their verbal voice. using software like this might be a challenge for many writers as they'd have to learn to merge their speaking and writing voices.


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