I'm Becoming a Slack-fingered Idiot and I Guess That's Fine

If there’s one thread running through the dozens of app updates I consent to each week, and the updates to the operating system beneath them, it’s this: it is becoming easier, over time, to get things out of my phone, and to put things into it. Various apps and services have become either more demanding or more compelling, and software and interfaces have learned how to get out of the way.

Autocorrect’s extreme assertiveness mostly eliminates friction. Gesture keyboards remove a thumb. Beyond typing, you can dictate into your phone. You can mash emoji. Much more easily, and perhaps more often, you can express yourself without language: double-tapping a photo, liking, sharing, retweeting. No time, or desire, to type? You can make a face, press a button, and hit send. You can heart a group message and leave it at that. Savvy services recognize that software is both a conduit and a bottleneck, and do whatever they can to make space and remove friction. And so our inputs and outputs increase; at least, they transfer to the phone.

This, I think, has had a strange effect on my computer use. I spend most workdays in front of a keyboard, typing into a variety of boxes: a CMS, social networks, email fields, instant message windows, group chat apps. Group chat use in particular has ballooned — I used Campfire and Hipchat in other workplaces, and with friends, but Slack has absorbed a surprising amount of utility, time and output. Chat, like instant messaging, seems to allow for a looseness not always permissible over email, where you can’t immediately jump in with elaboration. It also encourages volume. Typing into a chat is less like sending a message than jumping into a stream, or chiming in to a verbal conversation. A point is made or a purpose conveyed through a dozen short messages and responses instead of a single encompassing email. Timing matters as much as anything.

This has always been true of chat and instant messaging, and has been reflected in the new and fresh language we use on them. But now, with the similar and nearby experience of chatting and communicating on a phone, often without words, I feel a new pressure. The keyboard, which I’ve been mashing for twenty years, has begun to feel like an obstacle. After two decades of learning how to type better, I’ve started typing worse.

I don’t mean slower, or with more typos. I mean nonsense. Typgnuig like thsi. Mashging my fingers luike theyr made otu of rubber. Jsut pummlegin the keybords with al thw wrong fingers, enver even giving my hafns the time to fing the righ position.

That’s not quite representative, because by the time I’m typing something more than a few words long, I’m back in my old mode. But it’s the short responses offered quickly: starting with the hahas and the oh!s and growing into longer words, chains of words, ending, approximately, at sentence-length. A number of friends have succumbed over the least year or so. The one who gave in first is at this point basically speaking a different language, but I can understand her just fine. (The progression is: you notice it’s started; you embrace it, sort of, maybe as a joke, haha; then you realize it’s never getting better.)

Now, I’m typing and receiving fucking nightmare sentences all day. A conversation from moments ago, over IM:

Friend: can I get your read on something
Friend: as to wehther or not it’s a hoax
Me: ser
Friend: [link]
Me: either way its blood curlding
Me: i cant even tlel what im loogin at

I mean, we understood each other fine, but that was not my typing a year ago, and certainly not two. Chatting was always casual and messy but this is… drunk? Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy; it certainly gets worse when I’m tired. But I want to blame my phone, a little. Text input, in a real-time conversation, is always frustratingly slow. But my phone offers new options that are closer to the conversational laugh or grunt or smile or nod. I can acknowledge messages without responding, or communicate without speaking or typing. I can’t easily do this from my laptop, which never seemed like a problem until I could somewhere else.

One coworker is a master of the keyboard-smash — the well-placed asdofjhahsd in place of an insufficiently aghast word or enthusiastic ha. It’s vexingly vague and therefore powerful. In recent months, in private conversation, my language is lapsing into variations on keysmash constantly; it is becoming my natural state. My phone conversations have become richer and faster and cleaner; on my laptop, though, I’m becoming a slack-fingered idiot.

Anyway, either it’s the phone or I have a brain tumor. Or both! Guess we’ll find out.

Giph via Paul Ford