Mirabai: doing something real.

It’s kind of a well-known supposition that steno is a dying industry.  People view it as a menial, antiquated secretarial job.  There’s an 85% attrition rate from steno schools.  In parts of the world, notably the US, there’s apparently a big switch from stenographic court reporting to voice-recognition, or digital recording for later transcription.

Anyone who knows me will know my passion for steno.  I never could understand why more people don’t want to do it.  There’s the satisfaction of mastering a complex manual skill, the daily intellectual stimulation, the opportunity for travel, the reasonably fat cash.  In the early years of my career I tried to convince a number of well-suited friends to learn it, lending out my student machine and textbooks and possibly an overbearing dose of encouragement.

I don’t do that any more.  In my part of the world (Asia Pacific), the work for stenographers is plentiful and lucrative.  I don’t know if this is because of how the systems are set up, or because we nearly always provide realtime.  Either way, I don’t doubt that I will see out my career as a stenographer (barring injury), so I do kind of distance myself from the furore erupting in America over the immediate past president of the peak industry body “defecting” to the leading digital recording company.  Forums drip with words like “moll” and “traitor”, and stenos post emotively about betrayal and revenge.

Ten years ago I would have been right on that train but now I feel a sense of dissociation.  It may be because I’m lucky enough to have always lived and worked in areas realtime stenography is valued and sought-after.  Maybe because, from my peering in at the NCRA on its convoluted website and inaccessible forums, I don’t really believe that it’s keeping up anyway.  I feel sorry for my US colleagues who are losing their jobs, FOR CERTAIN.  I also remain confused by all the talk about “Let’s offer realtime, maybe that will help!” – it was only recently that I realised realtime isn’t a necessity for US court reporters.

I’ve been friends with Mirabai for ages, since back when one of the only steno “forums” was the LiveJournal court reporting community.  She isn’t sitting on forums blaming this and that, full of futile lamentation about how to revive this profession.  She’s bloody written her own open-source software and is out there trying to embed steno in the geek communities – as she says in this video, creating an underground community of amateurs, some of whom may become so interested in it that they decide to pursue it professionally.

For non-geeks, she has essentially made it so you can steno FROM YOUR QWERTY using FREE SOFTWARE.  When proprietary software costs around US$5,000, plus another US$1,000 per year for the license; where steno machines cost anywhere between US$1,000 and US$7,000; where people outlay this sort of money and then stay in school for seven or eight years, spending even more on tuition for a skill they clearly aren’t going to master, but don’t want to give up after such a ludicrous initial outlay on gear – this is a revolutionary door she’s pushing open.

She’s had the idea, funded it herself, done lots of the coding, and is out there pushing it engagingly and with style.  This is her presentation from a recent nerd conference called PyGotham.  It’s technical, if you’re not a steno and/or programmer…but please watch it.  This lady is the only one out there doing something REAL to advance stenography, as far as I can tell.

Click here…can’t work out how to embed it.  NOT MIRABAI’S FAULT!

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Aw! Thanks so much for the kind words! You’ve always been one of my steno role models, so it means a lot to me to read this. Only one erratum, though — I haven’t actually written much of the code myself. My programming skills are sadly not up to the task. In the beginning, I’d tell Josh (Plover’s programmer) what I wanted the software to do, he’d dictate the corresponding Python commands, and I’d type them into the file, but quickly we both got impatient with the pace of development, and he started writing the file on his own time, with my role being mostly testing, feature design, promotion, and moneybags. Other than that, though, it’s a lovely summary of what I’ve been trying to achieve these past few years. Thanks again!

  2. Jackie says:

    Loving the perspective. I too frickin love steno and am psyched to hear about someone pushing it into the future, not holding themselves in the past.

    1. jadeluxe says:

      Nice one Jackie – TOTALLY. Most stenos are still “adjusting” to dongle-less software 😉

  3. Karen says:

    Oh wow! This is really neat! I’m curious and excited to see this expand and develop into the future. On another note, I’m glad to hear that realtime steno is highly regarded and plentiful in Asia Pacific. I won’t have to worry about not finding work elsewhere in the world once I reach my speeds! 🙂

    1. jadeluxe says:

      Awesome, isn’t it!
      Looking forward to working with you over here one day, Karen 🙂

      1. Karen says:

        Looking forward to meeting you too, Jade! 🙂

  4. Sam says:

    I was thinking about starting a career in stenography. However, if court reporting jobs are becoming obsolete, should I do something else? Maybe I should focus on transcribing live television shows?

  5. jadeluxe says:

    Sam, you definitely can’t take this post as empirical research – it’s just the impression I get from reading various forums. I’m from Australia but currently based in Asia. I can’t speak for the situation in the US or UK or wherever you may be – you need to do that research yourself.
    Transcribing live television shows is also done with stenography. It’s exactly the same skill. So if you are interested in that, you should learn stenography first and then make that decision.
    I can’t recommend stenography highly enough as a fulfilling profession…go for it!

    1. Sam says:

      Thanks for the response. I am in Canada.
      If I get to 180, can I get a entry level job in television shows without experience in Asia?
      I would like to travel. Maybe Australia too.

  6. jadeluxe says:

    Hi Sam. Still a bit unsure what you mean. You couldn’t get a live captioning job at 180 (I mean live TV, like news/sports etc.), but you could definitely get an offline captioning job (pre-recorded captions). Unsure how the experience in Asia comes into it – there’s no English captioning in Asia, as far as I know, so you couldn’t do THAT here 🙂 But there’s obviously captioning in Australia!
    Email me with any questions – happy to chat.

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