Aaron Brethorst

Round peg in a square hole, rabid generalist.

On Preventing the Collapse of Western Civilization

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Much has been written about the imminent decline of Western civilization due to the twin threats of text and instant messages. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to write complete sentences, but I occasionally worry about whether today’s adolescents care or (even worse) recognize that they seem incapable of forming complete sentences with decent spelling. The following lays out an idea for how we might go about reversing this trend.

Tin Can Phone

At its core, this idea is pretty straightforward: implement spelling and grammar-checking squiggles in Windows Live Messenger. If your English-corrupting teenager’s IMs contain more than some user-configurable number of squigglies, Live Messenger will respond by disabling its send button. Blam, problem solved! In fact, this really kills two birds with one stone. First off, the overall quality of IMs sent will improve dramatically. Secondly, since we must assume that most of these kids won’t figure out how to improve their writing (at least not at first) they will be forced to take extreme measures, like reading a damned book or seeing their friends face-to-face.

From the technical side, this would be that tricky to lock down, either. Settings would be stored under HKLM, for which your kids lack write permissions. Right? Please don’t tell me you’ve made your kids administrators on your machine. You have? Yeesh. Good luck with that. The hardest part would be implementing the spelling/grammar checking engine and the squigglies, but this could be easily solved if Word is installed on the computer. Just host the Word editor inside Messenger, and you should get instant access to the needed functionality.

Maybe I’ve been hitting the merlot too hard, like Robert Scoble appears to be (I haven’t: I prefer good wine), but I really think this idea has some merit. Parents and teachers would no longer have to worry about their children’s inability to put words on paper, and kids might actually do something other than send IMs. Of course, this would break down rapidly in any jargon-laden corporate environment, but would that really be so bad? (no.)

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