Swipe is a meditation on how so-called ‘swipe’ typing represents a mode of contemporary calligraphy. With the substitution of small hardware keys on touchscreen devices with virtual equivalents, novel gestural techniques for entering text were made possible, with swipe typing, coupled with advanced predictive text modelling, being the most widespread. While the latter can exist as a standalone technology, it represents an integral component of the former, with the hurried, smearing trace of a finger over the onscreen keyboard being measured against varied statistical norms and intentions to surmise the most likely possibilities.

When the author first started using a smartphone, and employing swipe typing on a regular basis, it drew a surprising level of incredulity from outside observers, who noticed the sharp, rapid sweeps versus the expected rhythmic taps. Even today, it still draws attention, and this invites reflection on the translation of traditional modes of scriptural mark-making—of the performative interplay between hand, instrument, and medium—into the digital operations suited for computing devices—of finger, touchscreen, electrical signals, and algorithmic models.

The most evident transformation here is the conversion of the defined letterforms of print into flowing glyphs—evoking the kinds of calligraphic writing seen in different cultures throughout the world. However, unlike the latter, swipe typing is bound to the particular keyboard layout at play, and so different gestures, on different keyboard arrangements, can yield nevertheless the same outcome, from a computational standpoint.

Swipe uses the commonplace QWERTY keyboard layout, with its defined twenty-six key alphabet, as the structural underpinning of its generated glyphs. The latter are made using a plotter drawing algorithm that emulates the strokes of a calligraphic brush. The source text comes from the author’s own Google Gboard word suggestions—chaining together a communication that reflects the determined statistical norms of his typical smartphone usage.

Copies of this text are currently available for print-on-demand order. Please send an email to richard.carter@roehampton.ac.uk, and an order will be arranged for you.

Example Plates from Swipe