The Autocracy of Auto-Correct

While technology grows increasingly helpful as we complete tasks at home and at work, moments arise when errors emerge without our awareness. Many friends and colleagues have bemoaned how Microsoft’s Word overrules the enumeration, spacing, or indentation intentions of an innocent author. Smartphone users decry the auto-correct feature when our fingers get ahead of our eyes, and a text is sent that obscures or alters our message—sometimes with a mistake that borders on the inappropriate. Very simply, auto-correct has a mind of its own, one that is wholly different from ours.

Yes, more times than not, the aid technology provides is welcomed to speed along tedious typing or a voice search to new friends named Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant. But, will virtual help make us virtually helpless? Or, are we more inclined to ask for and receive help from our devices instead of people? These two very different questions address very different dimensions of our personalities, yet the power that technology has in our lives is clear.

Psychology Today once reported on nomophobia, the fear people experience when not having access to their smartphones. Reports of increases in anxiety, feeling irritable or annoyed, or experiences of phantom phone vibration plague folks when they are apart from their devices. The ubiquity of data, the need to chronically check for texts and emails, and the desire to view updated tweets to learn the latest news or scores can become all-consuming.

In Salesian spirituality, thoughts on the hour is a pious practice to aid disciples in experiencing the mindfulness of the presence and grace of God. Tradition has it that St. Francis de Sales was once asked how often he thought of God, and he surmised about every 15 minutes or so. This was eventually codified to be deliberate about thinking of God with a favorite spiritual aspiration at each quarter hour:

We are approaching eternity. My God, be with us during this and our last hour.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for me.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in you.
Our Lady of Light, pray for us.

This type of piety is less popular today. Nevertheless, a praiseworthy spiritual aim undergirds it: To live in the presence of God. Automatizing our spiritual life could potentially lead to an arid relationship with our living and loving God, whereas a fresh, ongoing awareness of God’s presence could yield color and energy in this all-important relationship.

The frequency with which we check our phones may exceed how often we recall the presence of God. This can be understandable for busy and engaged people. But, our primary attachment cannot be to a device; rather, it is to those we love and to God who graced them into our lives.

Is there an auto-correction for this? If not, maybe we can offer a quick prayer every time we check our phones.