Nuala McCann: That Donegal postman says it is Fiona be a great summer

Sometimes I press 'Send' and wish I hadn't. Predictive text gets everything garbled. After yet another round of gobbledegook, I am toying with the idea of taking a hammer to all machines, buying a bonnet and turning Amish

How did “gonna” switch to “Fiona”?

THERE are times when the rapid rise of the machine leaves me thumbing in the slow lane of the internet highway.


The days when, as a journalist, you found yourself queuing at a public telephone box in the end of nowhere at 10.30 of a night and biting your nails lest you miss the 11pm newspaper deadline are not missed.


Oh the pain of standing outside with your nose pressed against the glass as the person in the box fed a whole clatter of new coins into the slot. Ah the whiff of stale urine slapping you in the face as you hauled open the door. I don’t miss that.


How jealous we were of those BBC reporters carrying big bricks of mobile phones... how hi-tech, how new worldly.


But now, there are times when I yearn for the days of the big old red telephone box. Those times are when my texting finger is working double time but my phone is not computing.


Sometimes I press 'Send' and wish I hadn’t. Predictive text gets everything garbled.


"It's a computer programme," sighs my son, "it's not a person. It picks out the words you commonly use."


After yet another round of gobbledegook, I am toying with the idea of taking a hammer to all machines, buying a bonnet and turning Amish.


My latest mistake happened when I was merely texting about the fact the sun was out – front page news about these parts – and I might have to go out and pay a small ransom to have the hair and top layer of my epidermis ripped off in a celebratory leg wax.


“That Donegal postman says it is Fiona be a great summer,” reads my message to a friend.


How did “gonna” switch to “Fiona”?


"Effin' predictive text" I message my friend.


"The inventor of predictive text died last night," she messages back. "He pissed away in his sleep."


A short troll (yikes – a trawl, OK?) of the internet reveals a whole host of people who get caught in the snares of predictive text. All sort of treasures fall in your lap. Take the text conversation between two friends about the fine art of cookie baking.


“My secret is I add 4 tablespoons of vaginal extract” messages one.


“It makes all the difference,” her friend replies. She did mean vanilla extract, didn’t she?


Or the person who texts a lover: “Don’t think me weird, but I’m sleeping with that shit you left in the bathroom.”




“It smells like you and it makes me feel better when you’re not here.”




Nevertheless, life without a mobile phone seems positively medieval these days.


It seems like yesterday when you went into a phone box in Donegal, turned the big handle which triggered a bell and the operator lifted it and said: “What number caller please?”


People don’t believe you really did that.


My father would have been amazed, had he lived to see what modern phones can do. He was a telephone engineer in the days when a whole street shared a phone and often a party line. Once, when the cables were laid across the oceans, he rang New Zealand because he could.


He stood in his office in Belfast, amazed to hear a man pick up at the other end.


“What do you mean by calling at this time? It’s the middle of the night,” said the angry man.


“I rang New Zealand,” said my dad and he smiled for days.


He came from a time when families gathered at the boat to wave sons and daughters off to America. Some never came back and the two worlds were so far away that letters with a few leaves of shamrock pressed between the pages were all the emigrants had down the years.


When it comes to the computer debate, there are those who fear the rise of the robots and there are those who can’t wait to let the computer drive the car home from the pub.


Those who fear the rise of the robots should stay well away from Humans on television and not bother with I Robot or Ex Machina.


Me? I embrace new technology, I tweet, I twitter, I post and I text.


Sometimes, I even whisper bad bad insults to Siri just to make my son laugh.


Roll on this brave new world – but please, could somebody just switch off my predictive text?

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