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Dusting Off: Taking Dictation


As connoisseurs of history, we sometimes find styles, habits and turns of phrase from the past that we wouldn’t mind bringing back to the present, Doc Brown-style. This time around, we’re dusting off taking dictation.

You spend a lot of time typing.

There are emails, nostalgic blog posts and dozens of other daily tasks, all channeled through your fingertips. After a while, you start to wonder if there's a better way.

Once upon a time, there was. You’d pace purposefully around your desk, orating whatever urgent missive needs to be sent to the head office, while a dutiful assistant typed it all up at speed. When you were done, you could send it off without even looking at it—and at the bottom, you’d stamp the ultimate mark of correspondence-related mastery: “Dictated but not read.” If you’re not familiar, it’s the gray-flannel-suit equivalent of “deal with it.”

The custom tailed off with the development of the keyboard, but it’s a shame. Almost everyone comes off as more commanding when they’re talking out loud, with none of the hand-wringing of a long email. Done right, it makes you a better speaker and a better writer.

More importantly, we’re perfectly poised to bring it back—even if you aren’t high enough on the ladder to warrant your own secretary. Every smartphone on the market has a voice-recognition function built in. Now all we need is one that actually works. Within five years (if not sooner), the tech will be good enough to function every bit as well as Ms. Blankenship.

At which point, you should start thinking about adding those telltale four words to your signature line.