Ever notice how many computer messages leave out important grammatical parts like subjects and definite articles? And yet we forgive them because they’re just computers, right? How could a mere computer be expected to master such subtleties in language? But the odd thing is, these messages are, and always have been, typed in verbatim by computer programmers. So, awkward as this style of message is, it must be used because we feel most comfortable if the awkward, clumsy, refractory nature of a computer is reflected in the diction it emits. Maybe the perception of authority is a factor in this too. (Why do we see machines as authoritative?)
But computers aren’t the only context in which we use this style of message. Corporations are another. Ever read instructions printed on the box of an item? They, too, leave out a subject, definite articles, etc. If it were merely convenient, we would do the same in our everyday, non-corporate-related lives. Instead, the corporations’ use of this syntax is aesthetically preferable, on an unconscious level, because it reflects the clumsy, animatronic, fascist quality of a modern corporation. I.e., it yells out at you boldly and forcibly, in clear robotese.
This effect can also be noticed in automated customer service phone calls, in which the person, who is clearly a person, records the automated responses in a deliberately lifeless, mechanical manner. God forbid we have some intonation or personality in a computer-governed service. I use the term “service” loosely here, of course. I’m not sure it’s lost on anyone the scarily postmodernistic bent there is to calling a corporation or government agency you get a vital service from, only to be given the run-around by a computer system directing your interaction, because employing actual people would have cost them extra.
I once actually heard the automated system for Virgin Mobile give sass back about the user trying their damnedest to get ahold of a real person, superciliously suggesting that they give the automated service another chance, the subtext being that there’s no chance in hell that they’re ever going to speak to a human operator. (I had originally appreciated Virgin Mobile for having an automated service that actually had some personality, but I guess I found out that such an oddity is a double-edged sword in today’s world.)
The same effect, where real, breathing people with heartbeats speak in a manner excavated of all signs of real life, can be seen in the phenomenon of newscasting. Would it be so disastrous if we associated the thirteenth shooting of an innocent child we’ve heard about this week with some form of emotion? Apparently, they think so.
But now we’re edging toward another effect altogether: the need to appear perfect. And not perfect in the positive sense, where you have an overwhelming amount of genuinely uplifting virtue, but perfect in the negative sense, where you subtract all that may appear flawed. This is sometimes demonstrated even more so, or at least more awkwardly, in the intonation given by people speaking for commercials and infomercials. On the face if it, it may sound as if they’re merely the connoisseurs of diction, but if you really look deeply into it, they use intonations that no real human would ever use for any natural reason. This must mean that, rather than being the epitome of any real perfection, they are the epitome of some particular trait that we very highly esteem, which is likely for some ultimately pathological reason.
A little more generally, personas that are caricatures of certain human traits (such as evil or avarice in its various forms, or acting toward likability), which are totally absurd in their totalities, seem to pass under our anomaly-detecting radar. This was much more true in past decades, as can be witnessed via the cringe factor of old movies. I don’t think this effect is totally relative, in that I don’t think it will or can always be the case that people in future decades will see movies made in previous decades as cringy. I think our society is moving more and more toward authenticity, which is why the affectation, putting on airs, and general unrealism of past movies seem cringy to us. This pattern can only perpetuate so far into the future before we approach 100% authenticity. But I guess we’re talking about a totally separate subject now, because this essay is about things that progress toward postmodernism, and this is about something that decreases over time. But, to be honest, I think all of the effects I’ve touched on above will eventually be seen as hokey by future generations.
Getting back to the subject, though, what reminded me of the whole thing is this: in a list of ’15 Deadly But Often-Made Resume Blunders to Avoid’, number 5 is “Use of personal pronouns.” Now, if that doesn’t portray the silliness of the whole situation, I don’t know what does. Whom is your resume about, anyway? Presumably you, right? Yet you’re not allowed to talk overtly about yourself—only indirectly? It’s like, “let’s just make life as impersonal as possible, because, after all, this is business.”
But I won’t cry for yesterday,
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find,
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive.