The other day, an advert for a ‘grammar’ app muscled its way onto my phone screen while I was playing a well-deserved round of Candy Crush Farm Heroes Saga. I needed an extra life, and the trade-off was: watch ad or wait for 15 more minutes (for a life to come back to life), so I pitched for the former. I’ve seen this ad flash by many times, never paid heed to it (like I don’t to the bunch of other tiresome ads that play musical chairs with it); it’s 30 seconds long, and it performs on open-screen time, so I busy myself with random half-minute chores (there are plenty of those: carrying a coffee mug from the bedside table to the sink, for one).
Last weekend, I watched the ad for 30 excruciating ticks — maybe because I didn’t have a shortlived task on hand — and here is what I gathered: If you download this app, it will fix your grammar and lack of spelling bee instincts and even help with syntax. All you need to do is write incorrect English — on emails, WhatsApp messages, text messages, “spaces” on the same phone/tablet where said app has secured a resting place thanks to your finger-pushing ability — and, voila, Wren & Martin plus a global dictionaries’ archive converges on a common platform to put up a grand rescue act.
The ad thoughtfully gives you a sneak peek into what your life would be like (post app procurement) by using a ‘love life’ reference. A letter is typed out — a prototype — where a man is telling a woman how much he is “thonking” of her, and how “your the love of my life”, and how he can’t wait till “tomorow” to see her. Mr App then takes over. Changes “thonking” to “thinking”, “your the love of my life” to “you’re the love of my life”, and “tomorow” to “tomorrow”.
Obviously, that got me all flustered and bothered, and sent me into a tailspin. How lazy have we become that we can’t even be bothered to write a letter or email with reasonable, standard language skills — to a person who’s apparently the love of our lives? I mean, really, is effort in such short supply?
If I rack my brains, I realise it probably started with calculators. I was in a school at a time when we were right on the cusp of them being ‘officially’ recognised in school as being helping hands; they were being ‘allowed’ in examination halls to aid us crack numerical stalemates. A generation of us were all perplexed: prior to this, we had been told — in stern tones, no less — that we attend math classes to hone our skills of crunching numbers. But if one needed a gadget to do 2 + 2 = 4, or 36 x 36 = 1296, then obviously the purpose of a math class is defeated.
As it turned out, my school principal had strict principles. “No allowing the usage of calculators to downgrade students’ capabilities,” she announced, and withheld calculator privileges. But from next year onwards, the school had to buckle to the new flourishing ‘trend’, and math exams were never the same again.
When I started working, at a time when Google was not on hand to take commands, the prospect of a wrong spelling or grammar would make us walk down 150 metres to the library to look up well-eared dictionaries and thesauruses. Each time we checked a spelling, we tried to ensure it stayed with us — if only to pre-empt yet another 150-metre trek to, and then 150-metre trek back to our desks. Also, there must have been a little pride at stake: how can we not know spellings despite our education?
In these tech-enabled times, it’s a different story. Our memory is failing: the other day, I was watching a video with Robert Pattinson, and for the life of me couldn’t remember his name, and had to Google Twilight film series + actor to draw a conclusion. Our grey cells have been converted to gigabyte software that’s wired to hardware.
We forget birthdays and anniversary dates unless we get an app notification — or at least a Facebook one.
We don’t remember locations anymore because virtual map apps have become our life coaches.
Now we are being encouraged to forget basic language skills with the promise of love letters — that were written with passion and feelings, in longhand, once upon a time — getting thrashed out on auto-prompt.