5 Things You Can Tell From the Words I've Taught My iPhone

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Looking for self-knowledge in the custom dictionary of words that I have unintentionally been training my smartphone to recognize

iphonewords.jpg

The words we use really can define you, particularly when you're looking at 1,350 of them that you've tried to teach your phone. As part of my reporting on mobile phone forensics, I got a peek at the custom dictionary in my iPhone.

As a writer, I figured there would be deep lessons about the words I use, but it turns out that most of what you can learn from my dictionary is funny, but not deep. What was there, though, was really obvious. Without too much difficulty you could deduce:

1. I'm a Twitter user. There are many, many Twitter user names in my custom dictionary from MayorEmanuel to Rolling Stone's doreeshafrir to Twitter's robinsloan.

2. I use awesome and its variants too often. You will find awesome, awesomer and awesomest in my custom dictionary. (Also: yesss, yessssss and yesyesyes.)

3. I am a suffix lover. Here's just a sampling of the words I've bent to my will: dumbassery, convenientish, boutiquey, boringness, homeish, nowish, thinktanky.

4. I write text messages in Spanish sometimes. There are probably a hundred Spanish words in the dictionary from anoche to tiene.

5. Hidden in the proper nouns of my dictionary, you could find the names of most of my closest friends. You could easily guess that I live in Washington, D.C. And you'd also find three employers, my favorite bourbon, my hometown, my university, my favorite novel and my favorite bar tucked in there.

My iPhone's dictionary doesn't make total sense to me. For example, it's got duplicates, which isn't exactly how most dictionaries work. It's also hard to tell exactly what some of the data columns mean. So, I'd be very curious to see someone else's dictionary. I'm not quite ready to put mine on the Internet for public consumption, but I'd happily exchange quid pro quo with someone. Feel free to get in touch.

THE MOBILE PRIVACY SERIES

Image: I believe one of the columns in my data denotes how often I've corrected my phone about a particular thing, so I've sized the words accordingly. Take that as a provisional understanding. This graphic represents an unscientific sample of the words in my dictionary, and I made the smallest words red for some visual pop. It's just for fun.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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