I’ve had a few (read: lots) things to say on the importance of freedom of speech to writers, and now there’s a new threat, brought to my attention by the ever-wonderful Passive Voice, in the form of an app that auto-scrubs “profanity” from ebooks.
I suspect I can guess why this thing was created – it frees parents from the oh-so-tedious task of actually checking what their little darlings are reading and does the ebook version of net nannying them so they never encounter anything bad or wrong or… you get the picture.
Now on one side, sure, people have the right to choose what they do or do not read. But that choice should be an individual one, not something imposed – and you can guarandamntee that this app will be imposed and used to bowdlerize classics like Huck Finn – and probably expanded to keep the badthink out. After all, it can’t be that hard to remove any reference to, oh, guns… or blood… or… oh, here’s a good one… communists (that would make all those cold war spy thrillers really short. And incomprehensible, but that’s another issue).
As one of Passive Voice’s commenters put it: “Phuque that shight” (I hereby award said commenter one internet).
Then – I test software for a living, of course I can see how this could go wrong (and hilariously wrong at that), I can just imagine what it’s going to to do anatomy texts, not to mention cases like this:
- I was ****ing socks when he came home. (Yes, the example in the link from PV shows images where the word “darn” has been blocked.
- Oh, I just love Mom’s ***** pudding (Blood pudding. That wasn’t what you thought, was it?).
- Oh, look! It’s ****!
- Those hens just can’t stand that ****.
- The ****plate is too expensive.
And so forth… That’s just a sample of likely words that have perfectly innocent meanings and uses. Seriously. And that’s without considering what happens if it fails to register a space and the ebook has a sentence like “the pen is thick and hard to hold.”
No, there’s just no way this could possibly backfire in ways that would make it even more embarrassing and humiliating and crude. Not at all. Never in a million years. And if you believe that, I have this prime beachfront land in Nevada you might find interesting…
(If you doubt, consider Word grammar check and the amount of resources that have gone into that tool. It still ****, because computers are lousy at context. The ***umptions behind this thing give computers way too much credit.)