Sometimes a typo is just a typo

In a recent email I typed ‘GB’ when I meant to type ‘FB’ as shorthand for Facebook. My correspondent was mildly mystified and asked what I meant. I explained, which would have made a good end to the matter.  But because we sometimes debate the value of mistakes, I apologised for what struck me as a characteristically unhelpful mistake that produces no learning and wastes a few minutes of our time.

Perhaps with tongue in a cheek, she replied, ‘Yes, but think of all the creative juices that went into imagining what GB could be.’  Now let’s leave aside our instinctive thought that improvisers are supposed to ‘Yes, and’ rather than ‘Yes, but’, and consider the implications of chasing a typo to justify a poor argument.

Of course mistakes might lead onto good things, such as new creative thoughts, just as getting things right can lead on to good things beyond the accomplishment of whatever it was that was got right.  If that’s the main point of the mistakes lobby, then they are offering a feeble argument while trivialising the true negative value of  mistakes that cause annoyance, wastage, injury, death and suchlike.

If, as my writing partner implies, nothing is a waste of time, then we lose the concept of wasted time and cannot make a distinction between good use of time and a waste of time.  This is, for me at least, a useful distinction – whether looking back at things I’ve done, or looking forward to decide what to do next.

I’d prefer not to make nonsensical mistakes when typing and sending people messages, because the message is trying to accomplish a transfer of information, not to prompt them to be creatively interpreting the misprint.  There are so many examples of mistakes being a waste of time (repeatedly failing to get the right password on a computer is particularly useless and annoying, to take a fairly trivial example).

To soften the blow in any one instance of a mistake may be a kindness (perhaps to children), but to destroy the valuable distinctions that categorise mistakes as undesirable moves (when typing, driving, allocating scarce resources, etc, etc) is a folly.   What improvisers have to offer is so much more coherent and useful than that.

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