Self-discipline in the digital age
Sept. 20, 2019
by Ivan Raconteur

I made a rude comment to my iPad recently.

At the time, I was frustrated because, even though my iPad has touch ID, it seems that about eight times out of 10, I have to enter my password to enable touch ID. This doesn’t make sense to me, and it tends to make me owly.

Apparently, Siri overheard my comment, and mistakenly assumed it was directed at her. She indignantly replied, in her very proper British accent, “I won’t respond to that.”

I thought, “Oh great. I’ve been getting the old stink eye from real women for years, and now I’m getting it from digital females.”

There’s something rather humiliating about being dissed by an electronic device.

Of course, I realize this whole sorry situation was my own fault. Had I not resorted to intemperate language, Siri would not have been offended. She wasn’t the intended target, but it is a good lesson to remind me that our language may have unexpected ripple effects.

I try to be good. I know plenty of words of more than four letters, but sometimes impatience gets the better of me.

One of my staff members recently told me that I needed to get a “swear jar” and put it on my desk. Readers will likely be familiar with the kind of thing I mean. When a person uses profanity, they must put a contribution in the jar. It might be a nominal amount, such as a quarter, but the process is intended to modify an individual’s behavior – in this case, getting the editor to talk like a gentleman, rather than a sailor on the fo’c’sle of a tramp steamer.

This staff member observed that my vocabulary had degenerated dramatically since the departure of a certain associate editor who exerted a civilizing influence on my behavior.

I haven’t figured out yet what I’m going to do with my jar full of quarters, but I am getting tired of having to go out and get change to keep up with the demand for contributions.

Returning to the incident with Siri, two things emerged.

First, it concerns me that we now need to moderate our behavior not just around other people, but now we have to watch our language around our electronic devices (which are always with us).

Second, I had a startling thought. I can now envision a world in which Siri will implement a sort of digital swear jar, and start deducting a contribution via Apple Pay or some other means every time I am careless with my language.

If that ever happens, I may have to get a part-time job just to keep up with the penalty payments.

I like Siri, and most of the time we get along just fine. But at my time of life, the last thing I need is another female following me around correcting my behavior. I’m just too [expletive] old.

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