Autocorrect fails: How and why to turn off word prediction on your phone.
We Got a Bunch of People to Turn Off Autocorrect for a Week. Here’s What Happened.
Language and how we use it.
July 1 2014 2:33 PM

Is It Time to Kill Autocorrect?

What happens when you get a bunch of people to turn off autocorrect for a week. 

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For many participants, messages took longer to type, senders had to go back and address errors more often, and the process just seemed more cumbersome overall. Several people said they felt as though they had to pay much closer attention while texting in order to send non-garbled messages.

Slate business writer Alison Griswold noted that she would’ve gone back to autocorrect after just one day, but for the experiment. “There were probably certain autocorrect mistakes I didn’t miss while it was off, but I think they were few and far between compared to the number of times I’ve manually capitalized and contracted words, not to mention fixed my own typos,” Griswold says. “An experiment like this really makes you appreciate autocorrect.”  

But not everyone was pining for a return to auto-assisted texting. Slate science writing fellow Jane Hu, while confessing that she did miss her phone’s propensity to change her mother-in-law’s name from “Patty” to “party,” noted that, overall, life without autocorrect wasn’t so bad. “I think I overestimated how much I actually rely on autocorrect to complete or correct words for me,” she says. “I was surprised to find that I ended up going back to change words in my texts less than I did with autocorrect on.” (Hu did add that things may be a bit different after a few drinks: “I’m guessing autocorrect is pretty vital to drunk texting.”)


As for me? I’m with Jane. I loved the new approach to texting. I appreciated that, instead of my phone dropping out-of-context words into my messages without me realizing it, the device just showed me my spelling mistakes and let me decide whether to fix them. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t, depending on the recipient. I felt much more secure in knowing that what I typed and sent was actually what I meant. And while it did take a bit longer to compose messages, the difference was not so great that it became a huge burden. (As an ancillary experiment, I typed identical 15-word texts several times using each method. On average, the non-autocorrect version took three seconds longer to produce an error-free message, but I didn’t have to worry about any weird, surreptitious word replacements. For a 100-word text, the difference was eight seconds. Still not bad, though if your job demands superfast texts then maybe it’s significant.)

Whether moving away from cellphone autocorrect is the right move for you will depend on how adept you are at using very small keys to type, how wonky your phone’s autocorrect function is, whether you text in the traditional way or use the Swype method, how fast-paced your life and job are—and a host of other factors, including how often you find yourself intoxicated or overly tired. If you don’t mind fixing typos manually—or if spelling and punctuation errors that still allow for basic comprehension just don’t bother you—and you hate accidentally sending messages to your boss asking if she’s ready for the “mating with clients,” then you might want to give life without autocorrect a shot. I know I will never go back to the old way. I’m happy to captain Team Kill Autocorrect.

But I was clearly in the minority following that one-week experiment. Among the others, only Jane decided to give up autocorrect permanently. For the rest, a mostly accurate typing tool that helps one finish and send messages faster is preferable to a more user-controlled input method that makes one work a bit harder, even if the end result means dealing with the occasional embarrassing mistake.    

On a recent Saturday, midway through the autocorrect experiment, as I was doing some research for this story while lounging on the back patio at the in-laws’, my wife looked at me from across the table and asked what I was working on. She was sipping iced tea, and when I told her, her face scrunched up as if she were sampling the sourest of all beverages. She began shaking her head in the manner of someone experiencing severe stomach pain. “I cannot wait until Wednesday!” she said loudly, now smiling but still shaking her head. “That way I can turn the autocorrect back on.” 

Matthew J.X. Malady is Slate’s Good Word columnist. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjxmalady.

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