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Saturday, June 15, 2013

How to Not Sound Like an Idiot When You Leave a Voice Message


I learned how to dictate some years ago when I first started working in a “professional” job, that is, one with a secretary. Think “Mad Men” era. Secretaries were all female. Almost all “professionals” were male.

For you kids, that was when dinosaurs roamed the planet and copies were made using carbon paper. Secretaries took dictation in shorthand and some professionals were starting to use this new-fandangled device called a portable Dictaphone.

Dictating into a machine took me awhile to adjust to. I felt a bit foolish talking when no one was listening. Of course, this was before everyone had voice messaging. Secretaries took messages too.

But once I developed the skill of dictating I became adept at dictation. I could fire off letters and documents much more quickly than I ever could have typed or hand-written them. Of course, my real-life secretary often caught my mistakes and blunders before the letters went out.

Nowadays “secretary” means something far different than back then. I doubt any real human takes dictation any more. Most executives, lawyers, and other so-called professionals now do their own typing.

But a skill, once learned remains—I suspect somewhere in the memory banks between the brain and muscle memory. Such as the proverbial ability to ride a bike. Or shift a manual transmission.

So I was delighted to find someone does still take dictation--the iPhone –S, which Siri, in fact, is very good at. Maybe not quite as good as an old-fashioned, human secretary. She doesn’t catch my mistakes but makes a few of her own. However she is much better than I am typing one-handed.

You see, after rotator-cuff surgery, I upgraded to the iPhone 4-S for the dictation function. I know, that’s far from the latest smarty-phone technology. But it was a big advance for me from a three-year-old iPhone. One that just sat there and looked at me unless I used my fingers.

I had decided to get one of the newer iPhone’s, thinking, after all, if Martin Scorsese can dictate in the back of a cab, per Apple’s commercials, surely I can too. Of course, Martin Scorsese can make great movies—something I can’t do. But he made using the voice recognition software look easy. Surely dictating on a smarty-phone would be a big step up from trying to type one-handed, whether on my old iPhone or even on a regular computer.

An interesting twist--after rotator-cuff surgery, I suddenly had two new Siri’s in my life. The physical therapist for my shoulder was named Siri, just as is the iPhone dictation feature. Before now I had never known of anyone, human or software voice recognition program, named Siri. I could not make this coincidence up. And both were helping me function after surgery.

 All my old dictation skills came rolling back from my memory banks. Even though I’ve long-since parted company with Siri, my therapist, I’m still closely tied to Siri on my iPhone. She types my emails, texts messages, finds restaurants, Googles answers to questions and generally makes my life much easier.  Though occasionally with glaring mistakes if I don’t proof read before sending. Such as “Meet me at the “muscles and burger bar” rather than “Meet me at the Mussels and Burger Bar.” Oops.  But, so long as I proof what she writes, Siri does a pretty good job.

Today, as on many other days, I was returning emails, sending text messages and searching Google for various places on my iPhone. It occurred to me I needed to leave an old-fashioned voice message for a friend. After I ended the message I realized I had included things like punctuation, new paragraph, and other dictation instructions that don’t normally belong in a conversation or voice message.

I tried to leave the friend a follow-up message explaining and apologizing for the nutsy-message that really should have gone to Siri, not one of my other friends. I hope the human friend understands. I’m sure Siri would.

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