I wrote this post with my voice. I made no changes, save for a few typo corrections, and used no keyboard. That’s probably why it’s so bad.
It’s an experiment of mine. The hypothesis is whether or not a keyboardless world will change writing. And make no mistake, at some point we will live in a keyboardless world.
Right now, it’s the small things. It’s voice controls, motion controls, and eye-tracking software. Disrupt companies like Maluuba and MindMeld are already using our voices in the most interesting ways.
But small queries to Siri and voice to text transcription will take over for longform writing as well. This is only the beginning. When the technology gets good enough, contextual enough, writers will speak their thoughts.
Writing an essay, an article, or a speech takes much longer than saying the words out loud. And generally speaking, this is the reason why writing is better to read then spoken words are to hear.
Sure, it’s faster and more efficient to speak. This is the same argument that was made for the keyboard against pens and paper.
Writing gets rid of the voice entirely. Writing takes the thought from the brain and puts it directly into forever. Into a published state. But not before deleting. Rewriting. Deleting. Rewriting.
When you speak to someone you’re liable for every word that comes out. There is no delete. Your thinking has to be right the very first time. That’s why people would much rather send a text or write an email or even write a letter to apologize or discuss something very complex. It’s hard to always mean what you say.
Paul Graham recently wrote about the difference between speaking and writing. He puts it well:
Being a really good speaker is not merely orthogonal to having good ideas, but in many ways pushes you in the opposite direction. For example, when I give a talk I usually write it out beforehand. I know that’s a mistake; I know delivering a prewritten talk makes it harder to engage with an audience. The way to get the attention of an audience is to give them your full attention, and when you’re delivering a prewritten talk your attention is always divided between the audience and the talk—even if you’ve memorized it. If you want to engage an audience it’s better to start with no more than an outline of what you want to say and ad lib the individual sentences. But if you do that you could spend no more time thinking about each sentence than it takes to say it. Occasionally the stimulation of talking to a live audience makes you think of new things, but in general this is not going to generate ideas as well as writing does, where you can spend as long on each sentence as you want.
In short, good ideas don’t come from saying them, they come from writing them. They come from quiet thought transferred silently over to print.
The question isn’t whether or not beautiful writing, and good ideas, will survive. The real question is how we, as writers, will adapt.
Will we be the only citizens of the world tied to ancient keyboards? Or maybe, will we learn to think fast enough to speak those thoughts clearly and beautifully? Like writers of classic novels. I can only imagine Jane Austen was an eloquent, witty speaker.
Or more likely, will software be built for our constant writing, deleting, and rewriting?
Only time can tell for certain, but I know one thing without a doubt. Speaking this post, even without any corrections, took far longer than writing it would have.
Paul Graham is a partner at Y Combinator. He is also the author of On Lisp (1993), ANSI Common Lisp (1995), and Hackers & Painters (2004). In 1995, he and Robert Morris started Viaweb, the first ASP, which in 1998 became Yahoo! Store. In 2002 he discovered a simple spam filtering algorithm that inspired the current generation of filters. Graham has a B.A. from Cornell. He earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Applied Sciences (specializing in computer...