Alleviating cultural dysfunction through women’s literature

Big Brother is hiding in some strange places


SOMETIMES when I’m writing I know the exact word that I want but it just won’t pop into my head.

Once my method was to stop writing and agonise over the dilemma for ages, running alphabetical lists through my head until I forced the right word through my consciousness.

Now I leave a blank space on the page and, sure enough, when I’ve written a few more paragraphs, the word I want will suddenly surface and I can fill in the gap.

This is what age and a failing memory can do. A faltering memory is not a great asset for a writer.

But it’s not always ageing that’s the problem, there are other things at play. One of them is an increasing reliance on technology.

I have, for instance, realised I am losing the ability to spell.  This is a result of using the spell check function on my computer. To a lesser extent it also applies to grammar, although there are many rules I enjoy breaking.

These days, instead of stopping to think about how to spell a particular or unusual word, I simply type in an approximation and do a spell check to get the correct spelling.

What this means is that I am actually losing a skill I once thought was embedded for life. It also means I’m becoming dependent on that particular technology.

This habit goes against something I’ve always held dear, the ability to survive in the world independently and be beholden to nothing.

I’ve always believed that maintaining basic fitness, the best level of health possible and being well-informed, open minded and reliant on my own resources would see me through whatever crisis was thrown my way.

As a child of the Cold War years, with all their doomsday connotations, survival was an important consideration in our lives.

This is one reason I admire the rural populations of Papua New Guinea. The world could collapse and if anyone was going to survive it would be them. Conversely, the first to perish would be the lard-arsed elites who currently leech and steal from them.

Ralph Regenvanu, the Vanuatuan politician, once said that for the rural people of his country the global financial crisis (what Americans call ‘the great recession’) was a non-event.

Technology is de-skilling us at a rapid rate. One day when driverless cars are the norm we will forget how to drive. Processed and fast food are making us forget how to farm and cook. Some computer-addicted kids don’t even know how to hold a pen and write.

There are countless examples of technological things that we have come to rely on and become addicted to. We’re now consumers rather than doers. It makes you think it is all part of a devious plan designed to keep us contented, happy, compliant, docile and dumb.

But it is so fragile.

The recent crash of the electricity network in South Australia during an unusual storm demonstrated just how fragile it is. Nothing worked. The lights went out and cash registers and ATMs wouldn’t work. Petrol pumps were paralysed and nobody knew what to do. They had forgotten how to survive.

Our addiction and reliance on technology is illusory. It is an artificial bubble we live in that could go pop at any moment.

And when it does, the subsistence gardeners, the meek of the world in the remote mountains and valleys will wander down to pick among the ruins and marvel at our stupidity.

I switched off my spell check about a week ago. Sorry for any spelling errors in the above but I’m slowly relearning and hope to be back up to speed soon.

It might help rejuvenate a few of those old memory cells too.


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Chips Mackellar

It is not only thhe spelling which is ignored in schools these days, Ross, but also grammar.
For example, how many year 12 students today could tell the difference between a noun clause and the pluperfect tense?

Ross Wilkinson

Unfortunately, Phil, your affliction is not yours alone and, as a cryptic crossword aficionado, I sometimes have the mental anguish that you describe even with the addition of the cryptic clues. However, your musings do raise some thoughts about today's education system and its ability to handle the evolving nature of our language whilst retaining some semblance of adherence to its rules of structure and usage.

My brothers and I were afforded an excellent education at an expensive private institution by the sacrifice of my parents for which I am eternally grateful. I regret that I was not able to provide that same opportunity for my children but had to throw them to the foibles of the State system and its shortcomings. You brought to mind a couple of anecdotes relevant to the topic and I wonder if the symptoms add to the roots of your concerns for the future.

My wife and I noticed during our children's primary and secondary schooling that spelling, grammar and punctuation was not corrected in their assignments and homework. At the various schools they attended, our queries to their teachers on this situation was met with an almost mantra-like response learned at Teachers College that to correct these things would possibly destroy the individual child's creativity.

Whilst still in PNG I had commenced external studies for a Business Degree at RMIT at the urging of good friend and, by then, ex-kiap, John Biltris. This was the qualification required to obtain a Town Clerk's practising certificate. On return to Melbourne I was able to attend classes and graduate.

Whilst there, a tutor confided in me about a particular topic that arose in a tutors' meeting and concerned the treatment of spelling in student assignments. The meeting was advised that spelling should be ignored to which a tutor expressed concern that to do so was at the risk that an inability to spell a word was a possible indicator that the student concerned did not know how to properly use the misspelt word.

It is not only technology that is changing the way we use words but the generational changes that cause English to evolve as a language. For example, and much to my wife's disgust, the word “gay” no longer has its original meaning of happy and lighthearted in today's usage.

Also, technology has changed spelling because of space/memory or cost constraints in messaging forums that cause foreshortening of words and a subsequent loss of understanding of the correct spelling of those words.

As a person who does a lot of reading, my attention cannot help but be attracted to misspelt words and a subsequent loss of respect for the author. You mentioned a reliance on spellcheck but, perhaps, there is also a concern on the use of spellcheck by lazy proof readers.

Whatever the cause, I think it's poor and detracting from the quality of the text's content and message.

Francis Nii

Well said, Phil. Survival of the fittest in any given surcumstances depends on mental capacity and wits and is independent of technology. Those who can do well during technological crisis are the bush people or kanakas.

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