A new Harvard study finds those systems that suggest words to us when we type on our smartphones are actually shaping the way we write sentences and messages. The new app Drive + Listen can take you on the most realistic virtual road trip of our time.

Predictive text systems change what we write (Harvard)

Listen to local music as you ‘drive’ through your favourite city with this new app (Lonely Planet)

I predict that our Patreon backers will make this the coolest podcast ever

I asked my smartphone what words to say to start the show and it said: “It’s time for me haha”???

I would love to tell you that the only thing advanced technology does for me is help write each episode of this show more efficiently.

But I know that’s not really true.

If I’m writing on my phone and the phone suggests a word, I just might tap on it and use that word rather than type out something else.

There’s a new study from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences that finds predictive text systems like the ones our phones use are shaping the way we write sentences and messages.

The experiment asked participants to write sentences describing photographs.

Some of them had the same predictive text system found on most phones, the ones that present three words.

Others had no such system, and a third group had the system, but it was tweaked so that it only presented words that the system was highly confident would actually end up being chosen.

Those who wrote their captions with help from the predictive text systems wrote shorter and more straightforward descriptions than the people who didn’t have the prediction software.

Here’s one of the respondents photo captions with the predictors: “A train pulling into a quaint train station.”

Without predictors: “An old brown train pulling away from a small train station by a baby blue building.”

So the predictive text led to a sentence that was literally less colorful!

The researchers say that’s in keeping with the design of this software, which tends to bypass adjectives and go straight to nouns and verbs.

It’s designed to be more efficient than descriptive.

But that means when we use the software, our writing changes in that same way.

Or, as my phone would say, predictive text is a bit too long for you the way I do it is not urgent (!)

There are lots of ways to virtually visit your favorite cities, towns and attractions, but this one is really something.

The new app called Drive + Listen lets you choose a city to visit.

It then shows you dashcam video and other footage of driving through that metro area.

And it lets you choose either the sounds of street noise, or a live stream from an actual radio station in that area!

Not a bad way to explore for the time being.

But does the app have traffic jams?