A Stretch Too Far?

Testing the bounds of technology; how far is too far? There is such a fine line between technology enabling global communication and diluting the quality of experience.

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Technology is a wonderful thing, especially when it is working in our favour but it seems to me that there is a danger that it can dissociate us from our immediate environments and the societies in which we live. Of course there are huge benefits in uploading a digital file 100 miles from where it was recorded to be transcribed and returned to a different location even further away, within a 24 hour period. The carbon footprint, I would venture, is negligible when compared to couriering or posting audio cassettes.

But how far is too far? What factors influence us to think that things have stretched beyond reasonable limits? Much like email etiquette and the unspoken rule about how much information can remain in the body of an email before it becomes an attachment, I believe similar rules do exist in providing efficient, effective transcription services. As with call centres there is an unseen danger of taking technology a step too far and in so doing, undervaluing the context of the transcriber.

I worked in a legal office where they experimented with outsourcing audio typing abroad. Part of my job was to proofread the results, top and tail them with pertinent, personal information and have them printed in time for signature at the end of the day. I was appalled at the quality. That is not to say that I don’t believe that transcribers abroad are not up to the task, but I do believe not only that there is a loss of translation between continents but also that distance and detachment appears to provide an invisible barrier behind which people hide. I think as distance increases it becomes easier and easier to say, ‘Computer says no,’ when on the phone, or, in the case of transcribing to time stamp a document, ‘Unclear 05:36.’

As a native English speaker, brought up in post-colonial South Africa, now living in the UK, I know all too well that no amount of education can instil the subtle nuances of language that exist in the spoken word. (Anyone who has read Small Island, by Andrea Levey about Jamaican immigrants will understand exactly what I mean.) Humour, geographical references, slang and sayings are all invisible threads that we take for granted that form part of language that will not be found between the covers of a text book.

I think, as an industry, we should champion those bits of technology that work to the client’s advantage but rigorously oppose the penny wise pound foolish notion that outsourcing is cost effective. It may be cheaper at face value, but there is always a cost to papering over experiential cracks. As the old adage goes, ‘A stitch in time saves nine;’ correcting can take as long as getting it right first time.

It is with good reason that we value the transcription services we provide. They encompass not only all the superficial aspects one would expect like good general education, correct grammar and spelling but also things that money cannot buy – contextual experience and accountability. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that outsourcing call centres has not worked. The cost benefit pendulum is swinging back to home grown. It would be good if, as an industry, we could short circuit false economy, using their example, when deciding what transcription service to use.

We believe that no-one can compete with UK transcription service talent, which is why McGowan Transcription services never outsources to third parties and only employs UK nationals.

Blog written by Laurian Kerr
Research Transcriber