The Perils of Technology, iPad Edition

(Photo: FHKE)

These days, I read a lot of books on an iPad 2 using the Kindle app. It is for the most part a very good experience, especially for recreational reading. As millions of others have noted, having an electronic device loaded up with a mini-library of e-books is especially valuable while traveling, which is when I do a lot of my reading.

The other day, on vacation with the family, I came across a pitfall. I was reading the old football novel North Dallas Forty (thanks to Henry for the suggestion, and all of you for other suggestions). It’s pretty entertaining — especially the race stuff and drug stuff. As it happened, my 9-year-old daughter was curled up beside me reading her book (The Doll People). She took at look at what I was reading. Her eyes immediately found a four-letter word.

“Hey,” she said. “That’s a bad word!”

“Yes, yes it is,” I said. (What are you supposed to say? Advice, pls.)

And then, out of instinct, I covered up the offending word with my thumb. What this was supposed to accomplish I do not know; she had already seen the word. But even worse, I didn’t just cover up the word — I actually touched the word on the screen with my thumb. Which, helpfully, pulls up a dictionary definition of the word:

VULGAR SLANG v. [trans.] 1 have sexual intercourse with (someone).

<SPECIAL USAGE> [intrans.] (of two people) have sexual intercourse.

2 ruin or damage (something).

Thank you, technology. You are indeed a double-edged sword.

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  1. YX says:

    Just be glad it didn’t pronounce the word for you also.

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  2. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Explain to her that the author was writing what the person said, and the person was using bad language.

    People sometimes do use angry language that generally is not to be used in polite company.

    What words that are used is a social convention, and people do make judgments based on the language others use.

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  3. Kim Templin says:

    You really thumbed that up, Dubner.

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  4. Pup, MD says:

    Essentially, there are no bad words. But there are words that make other people upset and hurt their feelings so you have to be careful using them because it’s not nice to hurt other people’s feelings.

    Completely skirts the puritanism and ridiculousness we have towards language while being very honest about why it’s not always a great idea to use certain words.

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  5. Neil (SM) says:

    Obviously she already recognizes the word and knows it’s bad, so it sounds like no further explanation is necessary!

    If I had to, maybe I’d try to just be truthful. Explain that there are some rough, crude characters in this story, and those characters sometimes use more explicit language that would be unbecoming of a young girl, or of anyone in polite company? (ugh that sounds stuffy)

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  6. Jason says:

    LOL… Classic

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5
  7. Basil White says:

    Sometimes to tell the truth, writers have to quote the bad things that people say.

    You handled this much classier than when my son asked me where babies come from. I had him watch the tape.

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  8. ChrisM says:

    I’m going to take Carlin’s attitude on this one, his idea was that f*ck wasn’t a bad word, there are no bad words. Bad thoughts, bad actions, but words are just words. F*ck implies being close to another person (the first definition) and is a corollary to “love” (as in make love I’m sure), and that it is nicer than the word “kill” which implies violence and shows up more frequently in movies, so he wanted to replace every occurrence of the word “kill” with “f*ck”. Imagine, “We’re gonna kill you sherif, and we’re gonna kill you real slow…”

    On a related peril of technology (more towards the platform in this case)… when I bought a kindle 2, my already high reading rate increased around 30-40%. When I switched to reading on the iPad I found I was easily distracted by my surroundings or stopped reading due to easily switching apps/activities. Anyone else experience this?

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    • Neilb says:

      There are only words that presume that people are things or that nature is ugly.
      F**k takes away a person’s humanity by presuming that a person exists as a strictly sexual being (like mating animals).
      *ss takes away a person’s humanity by presuming that they are stupid like a donkey. B*tch is similar.
      S**t presumes that biology is detestable.
      Racial- or gender-involved slurs obviously de-humanize.
      To pretend that a word is just a word is to pretend that words are not as powerful as they really are. They connote and bring in masses of associations.
      Swear words presume superiority/that some person does not deserve to be fully treated as a human/that nature is detestable. None remember that people have sensitive/real/human feelings after mating/being stupid or that excrement is fertilizer.
      I confirm with my kids that there are no bad people, just people who do bad things sometimes (just like they do). I discourage language that presumes otherwise!

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      • Califmom says:

        I would disagree with you that there are no bad people, just people who do bad things sometimes. This is a nice thing to say to children, but is completely untrue. Stalin was a bad person. Hitler was a bad person. Jeffrey Dahmer was a bad person. The denial of true evil in this world is a common phenomenon and one that should stop among thoughtful people. There are evil people.

        Other than that, I liked the rest of your statements.

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